Still Wrestling

If you’re looking on from the outside you might well think that I’ve laid most of my questions to rest; that I’m no longer wrestling with trying to comprehend both the sovereignty of God and the goodness of God;  and that I’ve figured out how to reconcile verses that seem to promise protection for those that love the Lord and the reality of death and destruction of some of the very same people.

But you would be wrong.

I do experience the peace that passes all understanding.  I do rely on Jesus to be the Arbiter of Truth and the Umpire of my questions:

Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions that arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].

Colossians 3:15 AMP

.I am trusting fully in the ultimate redemption of my pain.

Yet there are moments when I am overwhelmed by the “whys”. Thankfully they don’t come as often as they used to.

Still, I refuse to pretend that I have it all figured out.  Five months later I continue to identify with what I wrote here:  Wrestling With God

 

The Problem of [Un]Answered Prayer

When it’s not your kid you can think of all kinds of lofty, theologically correct arguments or reasons for why God answers one prayer and not another–for why one person is healed and not another–for why one person survives a devastating-should-have-killed-him accident but not another.

But when it is your child that doesn’t survive or isn’t healed or is stolen through the violent actions of someone else…well, that’s a different matter entirely.

I prayed every day for my children.  I asked God to protect them, to give them wisdom, to draw them to Himself and to guide their steps.

I never thought I was “giving orders” to God, but I did expect that my prayers would be honored-that by praying in obedience to biblical commands and in accord with scriptural principles I was making a difference in the heavenlies.

Like Daniel, who received word that his prayers had helped Gabriel fight against the prince of the air opposing him, I sent my petitions as weapons and armor against any schemes of the evil one  that might threaten to undo my family. (Daniel 10: 1-13)

Herein lies the problem:   when things go well, when the job comes through, the test score is great and the person walks out of the hospital, healed and whole, we say, “God answered prayers.”

And I believe that He does.

But if we ascribe glory and praise and honor and thanksgiving for the blessings received, how are we to understand and talk about the ones denied?

The nation of Israel was looking for Messiah-expecting Him.

Yet when He came, most missed Him.  They had decided for themselves what He would look like, what He would do and how He would rescue them from bondage.

God’s ways are inscrutable.

I’m not arguing that prayer doesn’t matter.

It does.

I am commanded to pray. And God’s faithfulness to answer prayer is documented from Genesis through Revelation.

But I would argue that the way we speak about prayer, as if we understand how it works and how God works in it and through it, is often unhelpful.

The book of Job pulls back the curtain on what was happening in the heavenlies when God allowed Satan access to Job’s life.  We know that Job’s earthly suffering represented a testimony for God against the Accuser.

But there’s no evidence that Job ever knew.

There was no dramatic revelation by God to this man that had lost EVERYTHING except his own life (which he would have gladly given up) and his wife (who, it seems, went on to bear him more children-oh joy!). Instead, God confronts Job with questions, not answers.

My heart wants answers, not more questions.

I doubt that I will have them this side of heaven.

So I have decided to speak more honestly about my experience with prayer, to refuse to pretend I understand how it works any more than I understand how God breathes life into bodies or takes souls to heaven.

I will pray, as best I can-mostly recalling God’s own words to Him-and resist my desire to think that because I pray, I can direct His hand.

When Jesus was in agony at Gethsemene, He asked His Father to take the bitter cup from HIm, but in the end, submitted to God’s will and plan.

That is all I have left for me as well-to submit and be made into whatever God has ordained.

I will trust in the goodness and faithful love of my Heavenly Father, because He IS my Father.

I will lean into His heart even when I cannot see or understand the work of His hands and follow because He is the One Who will lead me Home.

he is faithful who has promised

Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

It is tempting to forget that there were three long days and nights between the crucifixion and the resurrection beause the way we observe this season rushes us past the pain to embrace the promise.

But it’s not hard for me to imagine how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus was dead.  It was neither what they expected nor what they prayed for.

There were many points in the story when things could have gone a different way:

  • When taken by the religious leaders-surely, they thought, He will explain Himself, they will let Him go.
  • When taken before Pilate-Rome will refuse to get involved with our spiritual squabbles, Pilate won’t authorize His death.
  • When presented to the crowd-no Jew would rather have a wicked murderer released instead of a humble, healing Rabbi.

At every turn, every expectation they had for a “happy ending” was dashed to the ground.

But here they were:  Jesus was dead.  His body was taken hurriedly to a tomb.  And they were hiding, praying-fearful they might be next.

There is a popular church saying:  “It’s Friday….but Sunday’s coming!”

Meant to be comforting and encouraging, it can also be confusing and condemning.

Because there are many people who will live their lives on this earth between Friday and Sunday.  They will live out their years, wondering just what Jesus is doing, why He didn’t act in ways they expected and exactly when they will receive the fullness of His promises for abundant life.

Here I am: my son is dead.  It is certainly not what I expected.  It’s not how I thought God would honor my prayers of safety and long life for my children.

Yes, I live on the other side of the Resurrection-I know the end of the disciples’ vigil-I am convinced of the empty tomb, the ascended Lord and my Great High Priest’s intercession at the right hand of the Father.

But what I long for I cannot hold.  What I hope for I cannot touch.  What I know to be true I cannot see.

I live in the space between “it looks like everything has gone horribly wrong” and “Hallelujah!”.

It is painful.  It is hard.  And it will last for a lifetime, not just a few days.

I am thankful for the resurrection, and I live each day longing for Christ’s return.  But my heart hurts in the meantime, my arms ache to hold the child I love.

So be patient with me if I  cry harder when singing the hymns of heaven.  And be gentle when reminding me of my hope in Christ.

I am living between pain and promise and waiting desperately for Sunday.

There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, “He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them.” When Scripture says that “he walked all over them,” it’s obvious that he couldn’t at the same time be walked on. When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!

I Corinthians 15:25-27 MSG

Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”

~C.S. Lewis,  Miracles

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

I trusted Jesus at an early age and I have lived my life beneath the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God.

But I never-not really-grasped the horror of the crucifixion until I watched as my own son’s body was lowered in the ground.

Death. is. awful.

We should hate it-we should long for the day when its black arms no longer claim victims. It reminds us that this world is not what it was created to be.

But one death is also beautiful.

Jesus.

Yeshua-“The LORD saves”.

The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.  

Jesus’ willing obedience to suffer in my place made Him the one and only perfect sacrifice, sufficient for eternity to make relationship possible with His Holy Father.  I can come boldly before the heavenly throne, because I come by His blood.

Good Friday–“good” because now we know that Jesus didn’t stay dead. Good because we know that through His death, burial and resurrection, those who trust in Him have everlasting life.  Good because Christ’s death conquered the power of death.

Don’t rush past this remembrance of the price paid for our rebellion.

Don’t tick off the hours and neglect to embrace the cost of Christ’s compassion.

Don’t fail to linger at the foot of the cross, looking up into the eyes of Love.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Psalm 85:10 KJV

 

 

 

 

Maundy Thursday

Today is the day on the church calendar when we pause and reflect on the Last Supper, and the last words of Jesus to His disciples.

A year’s worth of sermons is contained in John 13-17 but this week I have been drawn to just one verse:

[Jesus said] “Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”  John 13:34 PHILLIPS

The Israelites were given circumcision as the sign of the covenant.  The shedding of blood as the mark of belonging.

But Jesus knew His blood would be the final and complete sacrifice required for sin. He knew the debt would be fully paid. And blood would no longer be required.

So a new mark is given, a new seal is declared:  LOVE will be the designation by which others know who belongs to the Father through Christ, His Son.

I look around, and see how far we have fallen from the example and standard Jesus set for those of us who follow Him.

How we are known, not for our love for one another, not for our service to one another, not for our care for one another– but for our divisiveness, our competitive nature, our exclusion, our anger.

Jesus died to make us free from the penalty of sin and death.  But He LIVED to give us an example for LIFE.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet-He took on a task that was considered the lowest, the most degrading household job and did it with love.

If this is how my Master served, what job can be too menial for me?  What task can be too humbling for me?

The One in Whom all is held together, held the dirty feet of dirty men, who in just a few hours would desert Him.

I look forward to Heaven every day because part of my heart already lives there.

But as long as I am left on this earth, I want to live in love.

I want to reach out with the same heart that my Master has for the lost and hurting and lonely and outcast.

I want it to be obvious to Whom I belong.  

love brother

 

 

Unbounded Love: A Generous Life

Every day I have a choice:  I can live with my hands closed tightly around what I think I can protect from others or I can live with my hands open both to give and to receive.

Losing a child makes it tempting to cling that much tighter to what and who I have in my life.

But losing a child also makes it plain that no matter how tightly I hold onto the people and possessions I think are mine, in the end, I’m just not strong enough to do it.

I don’t have power over sin and death.   I can’t anticipate or control the thousands of potential dangers that lurk around corners and spring from shadows.

Every thing and every person that I treasure is a gift from God.  They were given me to steward, not to own.

There is an interesting conundrum associated with success documented in many studies: those who have more tend to give less.  The actual dollar amount may be larger, but as a percentage of income or wealth, it is much smaller.

It seems that those who accumulate wealth and experience privilege begin to consider themselves more deserving than those who live in poverty.

I think there is a corollary in the church:  we who are members of the Body of Christ and walk in the joy of forgiveness can drift from remembering that we, too, were once far from God, walking in darkness and without hope.

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Ephesians 2:1-6 MSG

God is a generous and loving God.  He makes his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous :

You have heard that it used to be said, ‘You shall love your neighbour’, and ‘hate your enemy’, but I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Heavenly Father. For he makes the sun rise upon evil men as well as good, and he sends his rain upon honest and dishonest men alike.

~Matthew 5:44-47 MSG

He longs for all to come to a saving knowledge of Christ:

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:9 HCSB

And He has called us as His ambassadors of reconciliation to proclaim His goodness, love and generosity throughout the world:

All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.

2 Corinthians 5:18 GNT

When we walk with closed hands, when we act as if we are “us” and the rest of the world is “them” we build walls instead of bridges.

And we push people away instead of drawing them in.

Have we forgotten that but for the grace of a loving and generous God, we too would be lost?

What are you so puffed up about? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great, and as though you have accomplished something on your own?

I Corinthians 4:7 TLB

 

 

 

 

Better than?

We live in a world where rankings rule.

The FitBit craze, while a boon to healthy living, is also a testimony to our competitive nature.

You would think that in the pit of despair, the need to be “more than” or “better than” would disappear.  But that’s not the case.

I continue to judge myself in comparison to others.

I find it difficult to give up the inner tape measure that marks progress or regress in this grief journey.

When I’m having a bad day, I feel like a failure.  I feel guilty for not taking firmer hold of the promises of God in Christ.  I question my commitment to the truth and I wrestle with unbelief.

When I’m having a relatively good day, I congratulate myself on the distance traveled, the hurdles overcome and the positive progress toward pushing grief to the background of daily life.

This is unhelpful.  And it rests in a root of pride.

I am not in control.

My struggle to rate my “progress” in grief recovery is an attempt to exert my will over things I cannot subdue in my own power. And if I feel successful, then the glory goes to ME.

When I choose to practice spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting, I am placing myself in a position to hear from God and to be receptive to His will in my life.

Likewise, when I choose to lean into the support of others and focus on truth revealed in Scripture, I encourage the healing process.

But if my restoration rests on my efforts, I’m doomed. I do not have the power  or authority to redeem my pain.

I cannot save myself.

I need a Savior.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin [by which it brings death] is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory [as conquerors] through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose].

I Corinthians 15:56-58 AMP