Scripture Journal Challenge: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve joined me here for very long, you know I have a particular dislike for what I call “Sunshine Christianity”.

It’s not because I’m opposed to smiling faces and feel-good Bible verses plastered across doors, hallways, t-shirts and social media.

It’s because it doesn’t tell the whole story and sets up hearts for disappointment (at best) and walking away from Jesus (at worst) when their personal experience falls short of this hap, hap, happy picture portrayed by so many.

This life is NOT all smiles and rainbows. It’s hard work, hard times and often devastating circumstances.

That’s the bad news.

But we don’t have to face them alone.

That’s the good news.

If you are struggling, I’m hoping that you are willing to wrestle. So many people seem to be seeking a bumper sticker God with whom life is clean, easy, and problem free and answers are clever, even punchy. But life is never clean. It’s far from easy. And it’s never problem free. That’s why I believe putting God into an easy-to-explain box is not only unwise but dangerous. To really know God, you have to wrestle through pain, struggle with honest doubts, and even live with unanswered questions.

So while I won’t promise you that God is your copilot or that the Bible says it and that settles it, I will promise you this: if you wrestle with him, seek him, cling to him, God will meet you in your pain.

Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark

From cover to cover the Bible is filled with God’s people facing problems and God’s promise to be with them when they did. Some of the problems were of their own making and some were circumstances visited on them by others.

Sometimes God miraculously intervened (the three Hebrew children in the fire) and sometimes He didn’t (every disciple but John was martyred).

Often I can’t make sense of the difference.

If I’m honest, what I want is a pain free life.

I want to walk this earth and not be subject to death, decay, disasters and doubt. But that’s not how it works this side of the Fall which ushered sin into the world and assured no one since our first parents would ever experience the pure joy of a painless existence.

Isaiah was tasked with delivering messages of judgement against rebellious Israel but he was also privileged deliver some of the most beautiful messages of hope in the Old Testament.

Today’s verses are a combination of both. The prophet doesn’t say, “if” you go through these things but “when”.

Trouble is coming. But God is still in control.

But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.

Isaiah 43:1-4 The Message

It can be hard to read these verses and both believe and doubt at the same time. God promised Israel that when they passed through the waters or were in the midst of the flames (more traditional rendering) they would not be overcome. Yet we know from history that many in the nation WERE overcome. In relatively recent memory, millions were rounded up and exterminated by anti-Semitic, power-hungry German nationalists and those who sympathized with them.

Where was God then?

One of the difficult tasks I’ve had in grief is arriving at a place where I can hold pain and promise in the same heart.

I’ve had to learn to live in that mysterious space where I trust that God HAS an answer even if He chooses not to share it with me this side of eternity.

Like Israel, I have been redeemed. I am bought with a price. Christ gave His life for my sins and therefore I have hope.

But also like Israel, that doesn’t mean my mortal flesh is spared. It doesn’t mean my family is exempt from death-even the death of my twenty-three-year-old son.

What it DOES mean is that God is with me.

And while I may be overwhelmed and undone for a season-perhaps for this entire earthly life-it won’t always be so. One day God will redeem, restore and resurrect everything the enemy has stolen.

In the meantime, I rest in His arms, on His promise and depend on His strength.

QUESTIONS:

  • How do you interpret these verses? What does it mean “to be spared”?
  • Is is difficult for your heart to accept that pain is part of our experience as believers? Why or why not?
  • Can you give a defense of the gospel and of verses like these to those who don’t yet know Jesus? What explanation can account for the fact of evil and pain in the world when God is sovereign yet doesn’t seem to intervene (in many instances)?
  • Do you wrestle with God or do you try to stuff your questions? If you do wrestle, when has God met you at your private Peniel (Genesis 32:30). If you don’t, do you think it impacts your faith in a negative way or not at all?
  • What pressing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking and/or faith shattering circumstances are you currently facing? Consider writing your own lament and pouring your feelings out on paper.

PRAYER:

Lord, I so often demand answers, long for understanding and feel disappointed when I get neither. I’m not disappointed in Who You are, but I AM disappointed that I have to live my days wondering. I want You to explain Yourself. Yet I know I’m owed no explanation.

In my most faith-filled moments I can find a way to accept this. But not always.

Like Job, I’m jotting down the questions I’m going to lob at you when I finally DO see you.

And like Job, when my heart is tender and I’m looking full into Your Word and Your face, I cover my mouth. I have nothing to say.

Your majesty, grace, goodness, holiness, love and mercy overwhelm me more than my questions ever do. You ARE the God of the Universe, my Shepherd King, my Bread, my Living Water, my very Breath.

Help me to trust You in every circumstance. Help me to feel Your Presence every moment. Help me walk by faith and not demand you give me supernatural understanding of how you work in this world.

Amen

Is God Punishing Me?

I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

My heart strains to make sense of things that don’t make sense and I sometimes reach for any explanation no matter how far-fetched or theologically inaccurate.

Because truly, child loss is sometimes only the beginning of the pain and sorrow and ongoing drama and trial.   Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, many, many things have gone wrong.

Many,  many things have been hard.  

After Dominic left, life just piled on like that childhood game where one person held the ball and everyone else tried to get it.

I woke up every day expecting another blow and it nearly always came.

I remember begging God to simply make it stop!

He didn’t.

So I began to wonder if I was being punished.  What other explanation could there be?  If God was allowing all these hard things, it must be because I owed Him something.  I hadn’t done enough or wasn’t doing enough.  My spiritual discipline was lagging behind.

Somewhere, somehow I was falling down in my faith.  

But those thoughts weren’t placed in my head by God.  They were fiery darts of the enemy of my soul trying his best to make me doubt and turn away from the Source of my hope.  

God is not punishing me.  

He made provision for all the punishment required when He sent His Son as a complete, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

My Heavenly Father is a good and loving God Who did not leave it to me (or you, or anyone else) to square that debt.  Because it is impossible for us to do it.  Even all the pain I’ve borne is insufficient to pay it.

Jesus paid it ALL.  The debt is no longer outstanding.  

john3-16-17

Now, I may very well (and often do!) have to reap the natural consequences of my own or other peoples’ sin. 

But that is very different than thinking God is doing me harm for the purpose of punishment.  

We live in a fallen world where things do not work as God originally intended.  Human hearts are callous at best and evil at worst and we do things to one another that should never be done.  Sickness, disease and accidents happen.

Sometimes all these things happen at once.  

God can and does intervene.  Sometimes He doesn’t.  I don’t know why in one case and not in another.  That is His wisdom and purpose and beyond my understanding.

But I know that He is not punishing me nor is He punishing you.  

Jesus Himself suffered greatly in His earthly life, yet never sinned.  

That made His sacrifice the perfect, complete and utterly final payment for my own sin debt.   Having received the gift of redemption by His blood, my life is free to be offered back to God as a sacrifice of worship, reverence and faithful obedience.  

But it is not required as payment for sin.  

Neither was my son’s.  

i made you and i will carry you

Death is The Enemy, Jesus Our Victory

We live in a culture where we see death often but experience it rarely.  

Movies, video games, cartoons, news stories all flash images of death across the screen so frequently that most of us either ignore them or they register only as numbers, not as human beings.

Of course many of the images are manufactured-the actors don’t REALLY die, the characters in video games are not real-but how often do we wait for a news report to tell us how many AMERICANS died in a plane crash or terror attack?

As if only those affiliated in some way with our own heritage “count”.

But when death comes knocking at your own door, walks in and settles down, that changes everything.  

I can no longer sit and consume death like a meal, meant to feed my appetite for entertainment.

And every single time I hear a report listing casualties I think of the families ripped apart by the absence of a life they loved.

Death is the enemy.  

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he said, “You shall not surely die.”  

He was wrong.

A single sin ushered in all kinds of sorrow and woe and the ultimate sadness was death.  It meant separation from breath and life, separation from those we love and, without the atoning blood of Christ, separation from God in eternity.  

My ninety-nine-year-old aunt died this week.  She lived a long, useful and fairly healthy life (until the last couple of years).

You’d think that in light of my own son dying at only twenty-three I’d be more OK with her leaving this life and moving to Heaven.  

But I’m not.  

Somehow her death-more than all the other souls I’ve known and loved that have left us since Dom ran ahead-has knocked me to my knees.

mel and mattie lou sahara

Maybe it was how hard and how long she fought against our common enemy.  

Maybe it was just the time of year.  

I don’t know.  

But she reminded me again that death is always sad.

And that Jesus is the only One Who can save us from death’s power.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

It’s No Sin To Grieve

You’d be surprised how often Christians are shamed for grief.

Families are encouraged to call their loved one’s service a “celebration of life” instead of a “memorial” or “funeral”.

Of course I celebrate my son’s life-he was a gift-but the day I followed his casket to the cemetery didn’t feel like a celebration, it felt like death.

I continue to grieve what has been ripped violently from me.

Until all is redeemed and restored in heaven, I will walk this Valley in tears.

Grief is not sin.  

It wasn’t until another grieving mom asked the question that I realized there are some (many?) in the community of believers that think grief is sin.

Not at first, mind you-everyone is “allowed” a certain amount of time to get over the loss of a dream, the loss of a job, the loss of health or the loss of a loved one.

But carry that sadness and wounded heart too publicly for too long and you better be ready for someone to question your faith.

Read the rest here:  Grief is Not Sin

 

Holy Week Reflections: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

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.

Read the rest here:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

Repost: Death Is Awful

I have friends who have not only buried a child (some have buried more than one) but have also buried parents, siblings, in-laws and other people close to their hearts in a very short span of time.

And I am appalled when they recite the trite comments doled out by others meant to patch broken hearts and sweep the leftover pieces under the rug of social propriety.

Let me just say this:  Death.  Is.  Awful.

Full stop.  No easy change of subject or laughter allowed to make the hearing of it softer.

Read the rest here:  Death Is Awful

Repost: Grief is NOT Sin

Grief is not sin.  

It wasn’t until another grieving mom asked the question that I realized there are some (many?) in the community of believers that think grief is sin.

Not at first, mind you-everyone is “allowed” a certain amount of time to get over the loss of a dream, the loss of a job, the loss of health or the loss of a loved one.

But carry that sadness and wounded heart too publicly for too long and you better be ready for someone to question your faith.

Read the rest here:  Grief is Not Sin