It is No Sin to Ask, “Why?”

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Sunday I sat through what started off as a promising sermon.  

The text was from  Jeremiah when he was sent by God to the potter’s house for an object lesson.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  

Jeremiah 18:1-6 NIV

This story hits home in so many ways.  

I identify with Jeremiah’s tears shed over the message he was called to deliver (Israel was about to experience harsh judgement) and the image of God as Potter and me as clay in His hands, to be molded and shaped according to HIS purpose and plan regardless of how I might like to be molded and shaped.

But the sermon took a turn that hurt my heart when the preacher began suffusing the message with personal experience.  It is absolutely his prerogative to relay his own life story as but it is another thing to draw general conclusions from HIS experience as being relevant and instructive for EVERYONE.

His wife had been diagnosed many years ago with a brain tumor.  She underwent extensive surgery and therapy but ultimately survived and is still living today.

Hallelujah!

I am thankful their story has a hopeful and happy ending (so far).  The problem came when the pastor said, “I never asked, ‘why?'”  and then proceeded to imply that asking, “why?” was wrong and the mark of an immature faith.

I’m delighted his faith was strong enough (or naive enough) that his heart never argued with his theological framework.  

That is not my experience. 

And it is not the experience of millions of faithful Christ followers who have been asked to bear up under burdens that do NOT have a hopeful or happy conclusion this side of heaven.

It took every bit of self-control I had to not stand up and shout, “REALLY?  What about Job?  What about Paul?  What about David?  What about JESUS?”

The Psalms are filled with questions.  

Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.

God invites us to ask.  

“Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord

Isaiah 1:18 KJV

My faith is stronger because I have taken my questions to the only One Who can answer them.

He doesn’t always answer. 

But He always listens.  

He doesn’t give me reasons. 

But He gives me Himself.  

I am the clay-I know that.  But unlike dumb physical material that can be molded and shaped without feeling or self-awareness, I am a human being, created in the image of God Himself and endowed with feelings, knowledge and a heart that longs to understand.

So I must chooseas an act of free willto offer myself as a living sacrifice, to remain supple and malleable under the Hand of my Creator as He makes me into what He intends me to be.

But submission does not preclude my questions.  

I would argue that true submission insists on acknowledging and asking the questions and choosing to yield anyway. 

Anything less is not submission, it is simply fatalism. 

I serve a God Who is my Father, not my dictator.  I serve and worship a Savior Who is gentle, humble and kind, not harsh, proud and uncaring.

It is no sin to ask, “Why?”

In fact, it is exactly the kind of exchange relationship insists upon.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

 

 

 

Holy Week Reflections: Clearing Our Own Temples

Growing up in church I was always taught the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers from a couple of perspectives.  One, that He experienced and expressed righteous anger-as distinct from most of our own selfish human anger; and two, that doing business in God’s sanctuary was a no-no.

As I got older and began studying Scripture for myself without all the cues provided in Sunday School booklets for how I should be interpreting the verses, I came to a little different understanding of this very familiar passage.

The Temple was constructed with several “courts” in successive distance from the Holy of Holies where the Presence of the Lord dwelt above the Mercy Seat.

second_temple1

The outermost court was the Court of the Gentiles where even “unclean” outsiders were invited to draw a bit closer to the God of Israel, to hear about the great Jehovah and hopefully, have their eyes opened to truth.

But by Jesus’ day, the Jews had turned this court-this place of invitation for seekers-into a place of convenience for themselves when coming to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and Temple tax as required by the Law. 

This enraged Jesus! 

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

Matthew 21:13-14 MSG

Now, most of our churches are scrupulous about not commercializing the space set aside for worship.

But we are far less careful about not constructing barriers to the outcast, limping, broken, stranger and alien.  

We are just like the Jews-we want our worship space to be convenient and comfortable for US-for those who have already heard the Gospel-and do not mind if our convenience and comfort make it hard for those who do not know Jesus to even get inside the doors.

There are no money-changers in our lobbies but we have our own version of crowding out seekers. 

We have our own customs that we don’t want to change even if they have nothing to do with Biblical Christianity.  We have our favorite Bible translations even if they use such archaic language most people can’t understand it anymore.  We insist that our services remain tethered to times and days and forms that don’t suit modern schedules or sensibilities.

Jesus was angry because the people entrusted to invite others to know and embrace the Truth were making it impossible for them to get inside.  

I’m asking myself this Holy Week, do I do the same?

Am I building walls or opening doors?

Am I more concerned with my own comfort and convenience than another’s access to the Lord I claim to serve?

jesus-hand-facebook

 

To Him Who Overcomes: Promises I Can Count On

Some days I wake up and question EVERYTHING.  

Have I allowed myself to be tricked into believing a fairy tale in hopes that it will ease my earthly pain?

Is God Who He says He is?  Will He do what He says He will do?  How can I be certain?

And then I turn again to the Truth. 

Have you ever noticed how focusing your mind on the Word quiets your spirit? In that peaceful silence, faith dissolves fear. God’s revelations about Himself in the Bible—namely, that He is good, sovereign, and our loving Father—have a way of sharpening our perception about whatever we’re facing We can see the true nature of a matter and it is not bigger than our God. As a result, we cast off the staggering weight of our burdens and instead grow a deep-rooted confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God. My friends, that is the definition of courage.

– Charles Stanley

 

I take hold of the promises in Scripture.  I recite the faithfulness of my Heavenly Father to myself and others in my family and countless generations before me.

I ask His Spirit to bear witness to mine that He can be trusted. 

He does.

i believe

And then He strengthens me for the journey, giving me what I need to endure.  

  • “The one who conquers through faithfulness even unto death will escape the second death.” ~Revelation 2:11b VOICE
  • “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” ~Revelation 2: 17b, c KJV
  •  “And he that overcomes, and he that keeps unto the end my works, to him will I give authority over the nations, and he shall shepherd them with an iron rod; as vessels of pottery are they broken in pieces, as I also have received from my Father; and I will give to him the morning star.” ~Revelation 2: 26-28 DARBY
  • “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” `Revelation 3:5 NASB
  • “He that overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more, and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God which is the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from and with my God, and I will write upon him my new name.”~Revelation 3:12 JUB
  • “He who overcomes [the world through believing that Jesus is the Son of God], I will grant to him [the privilege] to sit beside Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down beside My Father on His throne.” ~Revelation 3:21 AMP

to him who overcomes

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

~ Jesus (John 14:1-4 MSG)

in my fathers house are many mansions

 “See, I come quickly! I carry my reward with me, and repay every man according to his deeds. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the Beginning and the End. Happy are those who wash their robes, for they have the right to the tree of life and the freedom of the gates of the city.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”

Let everyone who hears this also say, “Come!”

Let the thirsty man come, and let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

He, who is witness to all this, says, “Yes, I am coming very quickly!”

“Amen, come Lord Jesus!”

Revelation 22: 12-14, 17, 20  PHILLIPS

the spirit and the bride say come

 

 

 

Repost: Eye on the Prize

I’ve strived and struggled for many things in my life-most of which have little eternal value.

I am striving now for the only prize that really matters, to enter the Presence of my Saviour and to hear, “Well, done, good and faithful servant”.

When the days are long and the nights are longer, I try to remember that.

“To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears.” [emphasis added]

~ I Corinthians 9:25 TLB

I remember one particularly grueling semester in college.  I had foolishly stacked five upper level political science classes on top of one another thinking that taking them together would be easier.

That was a dumb idea.

Read the rest here:  Eye On The Prize

Practice Makes Permanent

The first time I heard him say it I thought I had misunderstood.

“Practice makes permanent.”  

Yep, that’s exactly what he said.

As I watched the Tae Kwon Do instructor work with the young boys striving to copy his perfect form I began to understand. Some students worked hard to make their movements precise and as close to perfect as possible.  Some were just going through the motions.

Kids on karate.

Either way, they were creating muscle memory and training their bodies to recall the moves just as they practiced them.

Practice makes permanent. 

Perfect practice makes perfect.  

It’s much the same with our thoughts.

In Romans Paul says:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

Romans 12:2 PHILLIPS

What I think about, dwell on and mull over becomes permanent.

I have to guard the gates of my mind so that I don’t fill it with untruth.  

I have to practice recalling the goodness, faithfulness and lovingkindness of God so that I don’t feel abandoned.

I must saturate my thoughts with Scripture if I don’t want to drown in doubt.  

I’m thankful for the years and years of Bible study I had under my belt when Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have been strong enough or willing to do the deep digging necessary to feed my soul if it was not already my practice to turn to Scripture in times of great trial.

i-have-hidden-your-word-in-my-heart

Even when my heart was shattered and my faith strained,  my mind fell readily into the ruts that practice had put there.  

Practice makes permanent. 

Yes, yes it does.  

God’s comfort does not usually smooth the road we travel, nor does it make us jubilantly happy. But it does make us strong for our trials. God’s comfort is not good feelings but worthy deeds. The heart that exults in God’s comfort is like that of a champion who confidently runs his course, though with pain. It is not like the ease of one who indulges his appetite. ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ not your ease (Nehemiah 8:10).

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration, p. 73

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Sunrise

The sun rises behind bare branches and they look beautiful.

In just the right light and at the perfect angle, anything can be lovely.

bare winter branches

It’s true that every living thing needs rest.  Every working part must be oiled.

And while winter can be hard and heartless and cold and cruel, it is also space and time for re-creation.

If I only look harder I can already see tiny buds of springtime promise on the tips of branches overhead.

Death is winter.

Cold, hard, gray.  Every lovely thing fallen and dry underfoot.

A season of rest-not chosen, unwelcome, resisted.

But rest just the same.

Yet the sun still shines and spreads warmth and light on even these bare branches.

winter sunrise pines and zeke filter

After such a long time can the sap still rise?

Is there life left here?

Will spring come again and flowers bloom?

I’m counting on it.

IMG_1795

It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed!  We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life.  And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says:

Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.
     Hey, Death! What happened to your big win?
    Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?

Sin came into this world, and death’s sting followed. Then sin took aim at the law and gained power over those who follow the law.  Thank God, then, for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Liberating King, who brought us victory over the grave.

My dear brothers and sisters, stay firmly planted—be unshakable—do many good works in the name of God, and know that all your labor is not for nothing when it is for God.

I Corinthians 15:52-58 VOICE

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Announced by an Angel

When the angel came to Mary and told her she was to be the mother of God’s Son,  she was (rightly) confused.

Her first thoughts ran to what she knew and understood:  children are conceived by the joining of man and woman, she was a virgin.

How can this be?”

The angel Gabriel explained (sort of):  “Your child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And as proof of God’s miraculous ability to do what He says He will do-your old relative, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant!” [loose personal paraphrase]

So Mary graciously bowed her heart to this strange thing God was doing in her and asking of her.

“I belong to the Lord, body and soul,” replied Mary, “let it happen as you say.” And at this the angel left her.  (Luke 1:38 PHILLIPS)

She was willing, even though she could not possibly have understood all that would be asked of her in the end.

God did not give me any warning that He was about to take my life in another, very hard, very painful, horribly sad direction. 

No angel explained to me what God was doing. 

I didn’t have a chance to ask questions or beg for a different path.

I cannot change what HAS happened-Dominic is dead.  But my heart attitude determines how I will REACT to what has happened.

I am faced with precisely the same decision Mary had to make:  Will I trust God-Who cannot lie and Who will fulfill every promise-or do I turn my heart from Him and seek my own will and way?

I am not nearly as gracious as Mary.  I have kicked against the goads and screamed, “Why???” at the sky.

I will still tell anyone who asks that I do not like this plan at all.

But I am learning to rest in the same truth that guided Mary’s heart. 

I am God’s servant-His bondslave-and He is in control. 

He may do with me as He pleases.

mary-and-jesus