Arguing with God

I don’t expect to win and I don’t think I’ll get an audible answer, but I will tell you I’ve had some rip-roaring, humdinger arguments with God.

Now the pious among us will probably be shocked. They may tell me I’m pushing the envelope of grace or even sinning by asking God what exactly He is doing in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.

That doesn’t deter me-there are plenty of scriptural precedents for asking God, “why” and begging Him for an answer to the pain of this broken world.

Moses wanted to know how come he got stuck leading a bunch of whiny migrants tramping through the desert.

Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his flesh.

Jesus and Job both asked the question.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
‭‭Job‬ ‭13:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬

We usually don’t quote the last half of that verse, do we?

We stop at the affirmation and leave off the doubt-Job’s desperate desire to understand just what God was doing when it seemed unfair and capricious.

Most of the book of Job is full of questions.  Job asking why he was targeted and his friends asking him what sin he was hiding.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Isaiah 1:18 NRSV

God invites us to ask.  He opens the door to questions.

He is willing to “talk”.

But He doesn’t always answer every question. 

In the end, Job’s mouth was shut not by God giving him assurance of anything except His “otherness” and the fact that He IS God.

A difficult truth to embrace.

One I ponder often.

I hurt, I sorrow, I agonize over the loss that has come into my life. A precious life has been taken away. I feel great grief and pain. It sears my every waking hour and casts a puzzling dreary shadow across my life’s journey.

At a time like this, it is imperative that I remember that God has not promised to keep my life bubbling with pleasing sensations. I must not prostitute God by giving Him the responsibility of being an indulgent Santa Claus in the heavens. God is not my servant. I am His servant.

As I come to grips with my grief, I reject the sentimentalized, sickly religion so popular today. God’s comfort is not insulation from difficulty; it is spiritual fortification sufficient to enable me to stand firm, undefeated in the fiery trials of life. God’s provision is not always green pastures and still waters. Sometimes God leads into the valley of the shadow, but I may walk there with confidence, assured of the love and presence of God.

No longer can I offer a mindless, frivolous assertion that God always measures up to my every expectation of Him and always gives His children goodies. I must declare that some things are beyond my human understanding in the ways of God. Those mysteries have destroyed my comfortable existence, but I proclaim: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I will hurt for years to come. A hundred times a day I feel keenly the void left by death’s cruel blow. That pain, however, must drive me to stronger trust in God whose providence is not always compatible with my desires.

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

New Year, New You?

January is the month of resolutions and new beginnings!

So I boldly declare that THIS year I will (take your pick):

  • Lose weight
  • Eat only healthy food
  • Exercise more
  • Read more books
  • Declutter my house
  • Spend more time with family
  • Spend less time with electronics
  • Blah,blah,blah

Wouldn’t it be grand if all it took was the turn of a calendar page to make all things new?

How wonderful if I could wipe the slate clean and start afresh just because the earth had made another round of the sun!

But the average length of time these commitments last is just 7-10 days. (Which by now, most of us have already found out.)

Why?

Because we can rarely make sweeping changes that go against habits and character traits just because we say it aloud or write it on a special piece of paper.

new-years-resolutions-list

Life’s not like that.

Life is an amalgamation of thousands of small and a few not-so-small choices that combine to make me who I am.

Choices become habits and habits become character.

And then there are the other thingsthe things I didn’t choose-that slam into me and violently reshape who I am-ready or not.

How I respond to what I can’t control continues to remake who I am.

There is ONE resolution that can remake me from the inside out.

There is one habit that that will not only make THIS year new, but will make ME new.

There is a single choice that I can make every day that will affect me and everyone around me.

It’s not hard, but there will be resistance.  It doesn’t require special equipment, but it requires commitment.  I don’t have to be in shape-as a matter of fact, the more out-of-shape I am, the more remarkable the transformation.

If I place my heart in the hands of Jesus by sitting in silence with Him each day, reading His Word and asking Him to open my eyes to the beauty He places in my path-even this rocky road of child loss-He will renew my mind and transform my character so that I am conformed to His image.

He is the Potter.

The work is His.

I am the clay.

he who began a good work in you

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost: Hallelujah is an Exhale

You can’t hold your breath forever.

But when you first learn your child is dead you want to–oh, how you want to.

I don’t know if it was defiance or hope that made me certain that if I could just stop breathing, I could freeze time.

Read the rest here:  Hallelujah is an Exhale

Repost: God of the Day and God of the Night

I was afraid of the dark until I was almost forty years old.

My fear was rooted in scary childhood moments and even years of adult experience could not rip it from the soil of my psyche. I never could convince my heart what my head knew to be true: there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t also there in the light.

It was fear, not darkness, that controlled me.

There is great darkness in grief.  So many unanswerable questions, so much anquish, so much pain.

Read the rest here:  God of the Day and God of the Night

He Will Hold Me Fast

 

I’ve mentioned it before.

I’ve encouraged others not to resist.

But I want to be absolutely clear:  Losing my son made me doubt EVERYTHING.

I grew up going to church, listening to Bible stories, hearing “God is in control”, “Jesus loves me”, “prayer moves mountains” and  (even though it isn’t true) being “good” gets rewarded.

The prerequisite, of course, was receiving Christ, being “saved”, trusting Jesus.

I did that when I was eight years old.

And I leaned in and studied Scripture, fashioning my life around the Holy Word.  My home rested firmly on the solid rock foundation of belief in Jesus and the sovereignty and sufficiency of God.

For heaven’s sake!  I spent twenty years homeschooling my kids!  We might skip a math lesson but we never missed a chance to note how biblical principles and biblical truth informed our worldview and guided our choices.

I know, I know, I know that I don’t deserve special treatment.  I know that God does not promise to exempt any person from hurt and heartache as long as we walk this earth.

But somewhere I got mixed up.  

Somehow I thought that if I did all the right things, made all the necessary personal sacrifices, read the right books, walked the right path, my heart might be spared.

I was, oh, so wrong.

So when I had to bury my perfectly healthy, vibrant, brilliant, loving son who was here-one-moment-gone-the-next, I had to take a little while to decide how much of what I used to believe I could still believe.

I had to pull out all the verses, all the suppositions, all the theological arguments upon which my faith had rested and test them against my new reality.

Is God sovereign?  Does He have control?

I decided that He is and does.

Based on His Word and my own life experience, I am convinced that God is in control.

But His control does not routinely override the laws of physics He has put in place to rule the world.  His control does not always spare someone the natural consequences of choices made by free will.  His control does not always supersede the sinful brokenness that abounds on this earth.

So, here I am.  Left with absolute rock solid faith in the few, most important things upon which my hope can rest.

Christ died.

Christ rose.

Christ will come again.

Death is conquered.

Heaven is sure.

Redemption has been paid for and restoration will be complete.

I know by painful experience that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts.  

my-thoughts-are-higher

I do not understand everything.  

But I cling to what I can understand.

Doubt is not sin.  I don’t try to talk myself out of it anymore.

Because the One Who made me holds me fast.

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

~He Will Hold Me Fast, Getty Music

 

 

 

 

The Power of Lament to Make Room for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.

I loved everything about it:  the color scheme, the food (I love, love, love to cook-it was never a burden), family and friends gathered around the table, and the wonderful slowness of the day as it lingered into nightfall.

It was more flexible than Christmas for including all sorts of folks who otherwise didn’t have someplace to go. Living near colleges meant that  we welcomed students from around the world-we might have two or three dozen laughing faces milling about.

happy-thanksgiving

 

It was wonderful.

And I loved going around the circle, tummies bursting, to share what people were thankful for and why.

When Dominic left us everything  changed.

Oh, I was (and still am) so very thankful for so very many things-my family, daily physical provision, ongoing care and love of friends, the enduring faithful mercy of God.

photo (20)

But there’s something else too:  there is deep sorrow at the unavoidable FACT that when God COULD have stepped in and changed an outcome, He DIDN’T.

pain-behind-every-tear

And I’m having to learn to open my heart to thankfulness while also bearing witness to this pain.

Praise and lament in the same breath.

I have plenty of company.

be broken brennan manningThe world we live in is full of pain and suffering.  Injustice reigns.  We make our way through thorns and by the sweat of our brow.

It is just plain hard.

The psalmist acknowledges that.  He doesn’t rush past the pain.  He doesn’t gloss over the broken places.

He empties his heart of the feeling that God has forgotten.  But he doesn’t stop there-he chooses to bring the emptiness back to the only One Who can fill it up again.

Like the psalmist, I’m learning  that I must exhale before I can inhale.

I must admit the burden of hopelessness to make room for the blessing of hope.

“With my voice I cry out to the LORD: with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.”

I ADMIT I FEEL ABANDONED:

In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

AND YET I WILL CHOOSE TO TRUST:

I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

IN THE HOPE THAT GOD HEARS:

Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

SO THAT MY TESTIMONY MAY BE ONE OF PRAISE:

Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!

Psalm 142, selected

As I sit at the table, cherishing the companionship of those I love and missing the one I can no longer see, I will embrace thanksgiving and lament.

I will exhale and inhale.

I will beg for grace and mercy because I can no longer beg to be spared from sorrow.

I will ask for eyes to see and a faithful heart while I wait.

worn snow

 

 

 

 

Some Days, I’m Just a Mess

weakness1

The other day a conversation about the upcoming holidays devolved into a confrontation.

What I was trying to communicate came out wrong and one thing led to another until I fled- a crying, trembling mess. 

I am trying so hard to manage this life I have left.  

I work out plans in my head to navigate what I know will be challenging events or days or gatherings.  I execute the plan as best I can and when I feel overwhelmed I try to escape to a quiet corner or a bathroom or outside for a moment to regather my composure.

But it doesn’t always work.

There are so many variables-people, lack of sleep, random added stressors, physical pain, grief triggers, and even low blood sugar-any one of which, or a combination of which, can sabotage the carefully constructed plan I’ve made.  

I feel like there are no easy days.  I feel like there are no moments when I don’t have to be on alert.  I feel like I am constantly doing battle.

I stop by the store and meet someone I haven’t seen in awhile.  They ask, “How are you?”

So I go down the line of my living children and give a description of what they are doing-leaving out how they are feeling.  I don’t mention me. The person never notices but I’m reminded again of the disconnect between what others see and what I know to be true.

Sunday’s sermon is taken from a text that could be interpreted to mean that God protects His faithful people from physical harm.  I’m hemmed in by someone on the end of the pew but I want to get up and run from the sanctuary.  

Is my son’s death judgement on my unfaithfulness or on his?

It takes every ounce of self-control I can muster to remain in place.  No one is even aware of the battle raging inside.  

I walk through each day pushing down the pain, shoving aside the rising tide of tears.

I measure my words, measure my reactions, measure my emotions-trying so very hard to keep it in.

I wish I could crawl in bed, cover my head with the blanket and just stay there until this all went away.

But I can’t.

So I muddle through the best I can-hoping that one day I will figure it out.

Probably not today.

 

 

 

 

Appropriate Response

Tears of great grief have clarified my vision.

I don’t think clever arguments are the best way to effect change and I’m unconvinced that gathering the right group of people can guarantee an outcome.

But I know that God’s people, repentant and responsive to His will can do battle in the heavenlies.

donald-trump-vs-hillary-clinton

I am writing this BEFORE tonight’s scheduled presidential debate-I won’t be watching itnothing the candidates have to say and no media spin can undo the knot in my stomach.  

I am not surprised to find us here. But I am surprised that so many of my fellow believers are surprised.

Like captive Israel, we seem astonished that God does exactly what He says He will do.

Daniel understood his times.  Daniel knew that the blame lay not on those “out there” but on us “in here”.  

Pagans will be pagans.

They have no reason nor the power to act in accordance with biblical teaching.

But those of us called by grace and covered by Jesus’ blood-that’s an entirely different story.

So instead of lobbing political arguments across the aisle or pounding one another with snarky social media posts, I think we should follow Daniel’s example and storm the gates of heaven.

daniel-praying

An appropriate response to our current political predicament starts with prayer.

And that prayer starts with repentance.  

Not a general, “We’ve been so bad, God.  Sorry.”

But genuine, gut-wrenching, heart breaking acknowledgement of the degree to which the people of God-me, you, ushave turned from truth and pursued our own pleasure.

For generations, we have put our faith in a political party instead of a Holy God.  We have been happy to accept leaders of questionable integrity as long as our pocketbooks didn’t suffer.

We have sinned.  And we are reaping the fruit of the seed we sowed.

Our only hope is the mercy of God.  

I am going to be fasting and praying and begging for that mercy, like Daniel.

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;…The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

Daniel 9:1-19 selected NIV

I Will Not Be Moved

I’m not brave by nature.

If I have a choice, I will run every time.  But there are just some things worth fighting for.

My family is one of them.

I will not let the enemy have them.

I will not allow despair to overtake us, fear to bind us, hopelessness to sap our strength.

I will not let death win.

And though he stalks me like a hungry lion, knocks persistently demanding attention, follows me as close as my own shadow-I will not let the evil one overtake me or find a home in my heart.

I refuse despair. 

weeping

This night of loss will be longer than I can bear in my own strength, but I am convinced the Lord will restore my joy.  

I am committed to cling to Christ even through my eyes are worn out with tears.

I fight fear. 

worry-robs-corrie

There is no guarantee that my cup of suffering is full.  It may yet hold more sorrow, but I will not worry about what tomorrow may bring.

God is there

I won’t give in to hopelessness.

cup of blessing

I hold onto hope because hope is a Person.  He is faithful and He is able.  What I have given to His hands is safe and secure.

And though death is awful-it is not the end of the story.

rev-4-21

When trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, the nation of Israel was understandably frightened.

There WAS no escape-turn back and be slaughtered or move forward and drown.

They despaired of help and begged God to save them.

…Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch, and you will see the wonderful way the Lord will rescue you today. The Egyptians you are looking at—you will never see them again.

Exodus 14;13

They could never have imagined the miraculous answer to their desperate plea for rescue.

I realize that the answer to my cry for help is not going to be restoration of my son in this life.  I know that I will have to wait for redemption of my pain.

But I am convinced that what the world regards as a final chapter is only the beginning of the story.

I serve the same God Who parted the Red Sea.

He is still on the throne.

He is not sleeping and He is not silent.

I can stand my ground between today and eternity confident that He is at work in all things.

He is an ever present Help in time of trouble.

I will not be moved.

Worship as Warfare

After [Jehoshaphat] had advised the people, he appointed people to sing to the LORD and praise him for the beauty of his holiness. As they went in front of the troops, they sang, “Thank the LORD because his mercy endures forever!”

2 Chronicles 20:21 GWT

Image result for image music and worship

 

I love worship music.

My heart is transported from here to there in a single note.

 

In a moment, I am before the Throne, inside the Holy of Holies, crying out for more, more, more of Jesus.

Worship makes me vulnerable to the Spirit’s deep work in my heart-I hear truth, I see beyond the pain and I feel God’s love.

But it also makes me a target for the enemy of my soul.

Yesterday I plugged in Pandora to my stereo and was lifted higher, higher until… in a breath I was brought low.

Leaning over to raise the volume of a favorite song I came eye-to-eye with my missing son.

The photo we chose for his memorial folder is hanging with his siblings’ on my living room wall.

And I was transported from here to there in a heartbeat-

from almost two and a half years past that awful day to the moment I first breathed in the truth that he was gone.

Image result for image tears

 

I covered my eyes with both hands and refused the whispers of darkness.

The tears fell and my heart hurt, but I hissed back, “He’s not dead.  He’s just not here!”

 

 

And I cranked the Truth up higher and dared the devil to come back.

I raised my hands and chose to worship the One Who is loving my son until I get there, Who loves me even in my brokenness and Who will redeem this pain and restore what the enemy has stolen.

I took out my sword and declared  “He is a Good, Good Father.”

Image result for image he is a good good father