Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Testimony of the Repaired

     “Deep calls unto deep,” said the writer of Psalm 42 as he was begging God for comfort in the midst of his despair. The word "deep" means "abyss." It can be a literal geographical location, but it can also be that place in one's heart where chaos and emptiness overwhelms.  One translation reads, “Hollow howlings hang in the air."
     There have been times when the deepest things in me cried out, too. Sometimes, God filled  the abyss Himself. Sometimes, He answered by connecting the hollow“deep” within me to the “deep” within others that was once hollow as well, but which He had filled.
     My experience has been this: God knows the best help for the despairing comes from those who understand. Jesus' presence on earth showed us that God understands human existence because God himself experienced life on earth.  In the same way, our experiences give us a window into the lives of others so that we have an opportunity to walk with them through hard times.  Practially speaking, this means God will match "deep" with "deep."  
  • Recovery groups are headed up by people who have gone through (or are going through) the recovery process.
  • Divorce Care class is headed by people who have experienced the pain of broken families.
  • The best budgeting advice comes from people who had Ramen Noodles and water the whole way through college.
  • The best marriage advice comes from people whose marriage has been through the fire.
  • In the aftermath of my father’s death, I received the most comfort from others who were equally fatherless.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Seeing the Broken

"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 
Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."  - Acts 3

We all know what is like to be crippled.

In this case, the disciples saw a man who was literally crippled, but there is more than one way to have your legs knocked out from under you. Sometimes it can be a very real physical infirmity; sometimes it is an emotional one – depression, anger, lust, greed, grief – that robs you of your ability to function. Sometimes it is addictions the break us. Sometimes other people do things to us that cripple us through abuse, heartache, broken families and failed relationships.

In the kingdom of God, we should never just walk past the broken, because Jesus didn’t walk by us. Peter and John, acting as representatives of Jesus, saw the man and helped him. Jesus wasn’t around in the same way he had been not so long before, but He had empowered others to carry on His work with His power.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding God in Our Story

     Recent events – Frankenstorm in New Jersey and New York, the escalating ground war between Hamaas and Israel - remind us that this world is in need of repair. We don't have to watch TV to know this is true. Our own communities, our own homes, our own souls remind us this is true. While God will one day wrap up human history and create a new heaven and new earth, the course of human history has always been and will continue to be pretty grim.
     Paul once wrote to the persecuted church in Thessalonica: “Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this" (I Thessalonians 5:18).   I don't particularly like that verse. It's hard. The “whatever happens” part of that verse means, literally, “in every condition, or in every matter,” give thanks. It's worth noting that Paul does not say, “Feel happy.” He says to give thanks because it is God’s will.
     When we talk about thanksgiving, or giving thanks, we are not just talking about an emotion or feeling (though it can be that). I wonder if more often than not thanksgiving is a decision, a perspective, a commitment to finding God in our story, a search for God in every memory.
     After his house and barn burned down, Japanese poet Masahidewrote wrote, "My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." That's the idea.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sickness and Prayer

   In the years since my father died of cancer, I have done a lot of praying, studying, and reading about the intersection between prayer and sickness.  Many things remain murky, but one thing has become clear: We misread the Bible time after time when it addresses this issue.
    It's an understandable human mistake. We want God to make our lives better based on our definitions and expectations.  Physical health is one of those areas in which we long for a Savior, and why wouldn't we?  We are all part of a creation that groans.
   The book of James ends with an interesting paragraph:
Is anyone among you sick? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” - James 5:13-16 
    Seems pretty straight forward. If you are sick, the elders will anoint you with oil, and a prayer offered in faith will make you well. Period.
     Of course, I had to ask several questions: Why does it say "If you are sick" twice?  Why oil?  How will I know if my prayer was full of faith? And why just the elders? Are the deacons just not spiritually on the same plane?  So with close by, and the rest of James at my internet fingertips, I dug in.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Worshipping in the Dark

     At a conference in Traverse City, Robert Kellerman (author of God's Healing for Life's Losses) gave three definitions of worship:
  • Worship is wanting God more than we want relief.
  • Worship is finding God even when we don't find answers
  • Worship is walking with God in the dark and finding him to be the light of our souls.
    I’ll be honest: most of the time I go to God because I want to experience relief rather than because I want to experience God, irregardless of whether or not I gain respite from my temporary dilemmas.
     Most of the time I don’t feel like I’ve found God unless I have found answers, even though the book of Job reminds me that God can be thunderously near while remaining inexplicable and mysterious.
     Most of the time I don't feel like I've seen God unless I have seen my own life impacted, even though I am surrounded by so many people in whom the presence of God has been transformative.
     Most of the time, when walking in the dark, I expect God to bring daylight to the world around me rather than illumination within me.

    God, when you bring relief, and provide satisfying answers, and brighten the world, remind me to praise you as my only true Deliverer.
   When you allow my distress for a season, and you don’t answer my questions, and you don’t immediately push back the shadows, remind me to embrace you as my only true Hope.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A God of Holy Chaos

     At my family reunion a year and a half ago, I realized that I had the (dis)ability to see life as I wanted to see it, now how it really is.  That's not the kind of person I want to be. I want to be honest about life, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult that honesty is.  
    I read an article in Christianity Today called "Good News: Jesus is Not Nice." It struck a nerve.  The overall article was about how we have tamed Jesus to fit nicely into our notion of what He was like (and perhaps what he will call us to be).  At one point the article noted:
"We can stop pretending God is nice, as if it's his job to make our lives well-adjusted or religious or even spiritual. Jesus did not say he came to give us happiness, only blessedness. He did not promise an easy life, only an abundant one. He doesn't call us to be religious or spiritual, but to love God and love others. We can save ourselves a lot of grief if we recognize that up front. This means at least two things: (1) He's not going to spare us from heartache, suffering, and chaos. (2) He's actually going to bring heartache, suffering, and chaos into our lives sometimes."
     Ah.  I need to hear this message over and over.  I find that I so quickly want my life to manageable and predictable.  I want my wife to read my mind, my kids to always make me proud, my church to hang onto my every word, and my book to instantly click with millions.  I want to eat without consequence, work out without sweating, and sleep without my cat waking me up.  I just want my stupid smart phone to sync properly.  I want my deck roof to build itself, my van tires to not go bald, and my wireless internet to work instantly.
    But none of these things are going to happen. In fact, if the life of Jesus is any indication, I'm not sure He wants them to happen either.  The life that I want is a life in which I never grow up.  The life I want would pamper me, not strengthen me; coddle me, not mature me. It would keep me a child, not make me a man.
     But I don't want to be Peter Pan, stuck in perpetual adolescence, treating all of life as a game when the stakes are so much higher than that.  I want to grow up.  There is an abundant life awaiting me. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hello, Grief, My Old Friend

While driving to Ohio this past weekend, I missed my dad.

It’s not that I don’t think about him a lot. It's just that life fills up so quickly that I can put the hollow part of my heart on a shelf and go about my day.  It waits for me (that hollow spot), knowing I will inevitably reach up, dust it off, and carry it around with me when the time is right.

The time was right as I was driving to Ohio this past weekend, and I missed my dad. I was tired; Skillet seemed like a good idea. When you’re sleepy, “Waking Up, Waking Up!” is a great stadium chant to sing in a car.  But metal mayhem gave way to a song I had not heard and did not expect:

“I went to bed - I was thinking about you
I wanna talk and laugh like we used to.
When I see you in my dreams at night
It's so real but it's in my mind,
And now I guess this is as good as it gets

Don't wake me, 'cause I don't wanna leave this dream
Don't wake me, 'cause I never seem to stay asleep enough
When it's you I'm dreaming of, I don't wanna wake up

These dreams of you keep on growing stronger
It ain't a lot but it's all I have.
Nothing to do but keep sleeping longer
Don't wanna stop 'cause I want You back."

"'Cause I want you back." I had dreams of my father for months after he died. I wish so desperately I could have them again (and yet I don’t – it’s exhausting to wake up sobbing). Grief is such a confusing mix of “I hate this” and “Please don't let me forget.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Comfort One Another

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words."                                        1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
     There are three main observations in this section of Scripture:
  • Death brings grief.
  • Because Christ rose, Death does not have the final word. 
  • Comfort one another with the hope of the final Resurrection.
    The fact that death brings grief is really not earth-shattering. People have always grieved death. But I appreciate how the Bible does not look away from real life. There is no avoidance here. Life is sometimes very hard, and it does us no good to look away. There is something about entering into even the most painful emotions and events that is important in a road to recovery.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ecclesiastes: The Last Word

“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Dueteronomy 10:12)

“Dear friends, let's cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit by becoming mature in our holy fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Ecclesiastes is a sobering book, but I think it's an important one as we try to navigate our way through life.

We have the opportunities to pursue the same hollow gods Solomon followed for a time.  Money, sex, power, fame - we can try them all if we want to.

There are plenty of pessimistic world views we can embrace during the times we feel that "all is vanity."  I've been there. I know what it's like to struggle to see meaning and purpose in them midst of pain and disillusionment.

"Fear and reverence God," said Solomon. "Let God’s commandments guide you through life. That’s the secret to life."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "The Secret To Life"

 (Ecclesiastes 1: "What is the Good Life?")
(Ecclesiastes 5 and 6: "Shadows that Cover the Land")

      Sorry I haven’t written in a while.  I tend not to write when life is good.  After I “gave up” last time, something settled inside me.  I recently realized there have been a couple cool changes in me.
    I don’t live in fear. I don’t understand the wind, but I still sail and do business on the seas.  I  prepare for the unexpected  - I send boats out 8 different directions so if storms sink one, the other still go on.
     I don’t know when it will rain, but I don’t stop planting.  I just plant at different times.    
     I don’t understand how babies are formed in the womb, but I still father children.
     I don’t understand how you work any better now than I did then, but that’s okay.  Wind, rain, and life are better in your hands than mine.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "Shadows That Cover The Land"

(Ecclesiastes 1: "What is the Good Life?")
 Ecclesiastes 5
     Wow. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by what I see and hear as king.  Clearly I was right: we are the problem.  It weighs on me, but it also gives me perspective. 

     I’ve seen evil people get away with a hundred atrocities and still live a long life.  That used to make me question your justice, but over time I have seen that the truly good life is reserved for those who fear you, and who aren’t ashamed to let people know. Evil people might live long, but that’s not the same as living well.  They fear things to – just not you – but that doesn’t make them better people at all.  Those who fear you build towering lives that cast a long shadow: people find shade and rest close to them. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "If It Makes You Happy, Why Are You So Sad?"

(Ecclesiastes 1: "What is the Good Life?")
(Ecclesiastes 2: "Hebel Happens")
(Ecclesiastes 3: "He Who Dies with the Most Hebel Wins")
(Ecclesiastes 4: "Fatalism, Flux, and Figs")

Ecclesiastes 4
    I heard a guy say recently,All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the  appetite is not satisfied.”  I get that now.  I was feeling good about my new embrace of life, but… how do I know what’s good for me during this lifetime, during the few years of this vaporous life?   I mean REALLY, truly good for me?  I have seized day after day, I’ve tried to enjoy what you have allowed me to have, and I still feel empty.  I feel this overwhelming guilt like I am still wasting something that is already so fleeting. 

    God, I know you gave me something substantial – my life – and you gave me this new desire to maximize my days (whee!)…but I feel like I am wasting them because I don’t think I actually know what true enjoyment looks and feels like.  I am experiencing a shadow of the real thing.  I’m playing at the mud puddle when I should be at the ocean, but I don’t know where the ocean is.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ecclesiastes: Fatalism, Flux, and Figs

(Introduction - "What is the Good Life?")

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

     I think I have nailed the problem: Everything is in flux, everything changes, and it’s unpredictable.  And I can’t stand unpredictability.

   I understand we must have change: One day we are born, one day we die.  One day we kill, another day we heal. One day we celebrate, another day we watch Michigan football.  One day we make war, one day we find peace. One day we marry, the next day we begin to shop. 

     There is a season for everything.  Fine. Why can’t I know what season is coming up, or why I just had the season I did?  Is it too much to ask for a “heads up”?  I know my chariot has to break down….I know I’ll probably get sick from green figs…my wives and I will disagree…my son will one day want to be king…I just want to know when.  I want to be able to prepare. I WANT PREDICTABILITY!!!!!

   God, in my clearer moments, I know you plan the right seasons of life for the right time – that predictability I complained about in nature makes that possible.  I get it.  I just wonder why you can’t show us what you have planned from the beginning to the end. The seasons of the year are predictable; why not life?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "He Who Dies With the Most Hebel Wins"

(Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, 21st Century Version)
    Okay, I gave it my best shot.  I am really trying to find a way to make this life meaningful.

     You would not believe how much I studied.  I tried to learn as much as I could about as many things as I could find.  It was like chasing the wind.  I never quite caught it, and even if I would have, what’s the point?  

    I hired all the best comedians, They were stupid. Nothing is funny anymore.  A man can walk into a bar only so many times.  Good humor is based in reality, and reality is hebel. (Have I said that already?)

     Did I mention I drank a lot,  and it wasn’t the cheap stuff.  I didn’t just do it to get drunk; I did it purposefully, as an experiment to see if happiness could be found at the bottom of a bottle.  I found nothing other than the occasional worm.  

    I built a ton of stuff.  I had over 100,000 people working on just the temple and my palace.  I built vineyards and gardens and blah blah blah.  One day they will all crumble, thanks to that sun and rain I mentioned last time.

    So I went shopping, and let me tell you, I have wives who can teach me how to shop like you would not believe.  I bought everything I wanted.  Now, even the singing fish on my wall is getting old.

    I hired musicians and started Solomonpalooza.  It was boring.  There is only so much you can do with a harp and a zither.  And nobody had a bass player, so who was I supposed to pay for the pizza?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ecclesiastes: "Hebel Happens"

(From Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1)

Okay, God, here we go. This is going to be very different from that song I wrote about love and those pithy Proverbs I compiled.  I was younger then.  A lot of life has flowed under the bridge since then.  This time the subject's going to be tougher, but I am committed to being honest  in what I write.  It’s not like anyone else is going to read it.

Here is my opinion about life:  everything I see around me is meaningless and insignificant.  I see the vapor rising from the lake in the morning, and I think, “That’s what life is like.”  It’s worthless. The best Hebrew word I know to do it justice is  hebel.   Everything we do in life vaporizes like that mist under this hot, miserable sun.  We are like mice in a wheel; we run in circles for no apparent reason. I’m sure it’s entertaining to watch, but it’s pointless. All in all, it’s just another brick in my palace wall. I am thinking of a new bumper sticker for my chariot: “Hebel happens.” Or something like that.

Honestly, looking at the world you made doesn’t help.  The earth, the sun, the wind, the rivers - they're beautiful, but it’s just the same thing over and over again: the earth spins, the sun rises, the wind blows, the rivers run to the ocean. Then they do it again. Sure, it’s pretty, but it’s pointless. I don’t find this encouraging.

I am afraid that’s my life too – pretty but pointless.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ecclesiastes: What is the Good Life?

When I went to the Smokeys last summer, everyone asked me the same question when I got home: “Did you have a good vacation?”

While on the trip, a friend asked me a very poignant question: “I am trying my best to live for Christ. Why do I feel so restless and unfulfilled?  What am I not happy? How do I find the good life?” 

The good vacation.  The good life.

When I got home, I read this in a Newsweek article called "My Transoceanic Midlife Crisis." 
"‘I pared life down to the basics to find out what really mattered to me, to find out what was left when I was defined by who I was, not by what I owned or who I was with. I was letting go of everything that had represented security—my job, my husband, my home, my possessions…It was liberating, but I was like a carpenter with a brand-new set of tools and no wood to work on. I needed a project.’ Sailing won out over ‘less extreme options, such as an organic baking business and planning a motorcycle trip…’
Everyone wants the good life.

This search for meaning is not a new search.  The book of Ecclesiastes is an often overlooked and seldom discussed book, but it has tremendous relevance for today.

Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, whose wisdom and wealth was perhaps unparalleled in ancient times.  He is responsible for three books in the Old Testament: The Song of Songs, written first; Proverbs, written second; and then Ecclesiastes, most likely written at a time his kingdom was crumbling around him due to the idol worship he had allowed in the land. 

The title means “one who addresses an assembly.” The word he uses for God is Elohim, which – more than other words he could have used- focused his audience on God as a Creator, and us as the created. Solomon is apparently wanting to address a wider audience than just the Jewish people.

He is addressing a universal human condition.  What is the point of life?  How do I find meaning and purpose and hope in the midst of a world that can be very confusing?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Marshes and Marshwiggles

     At some point in my life, I lost my imagination. 

     I don't mean misplaced it temporarily, like I do my cell phone at least once a month. I lost the ability I had as a child to see the wonder and creativity with which God infuses even the most ordinary things in the world.  There have been times in the last year or two where this lost friend briefly sparked, drawing near with its light and warmth, only to grow dim yet again as the business of life dampened its glow.

      A recent hike through a swampy woods on a blustery, 50 degree day in Northern Michigan rekindled that spark.

    I'll be honest - this was not where I intended to be. My plan for the day involved an NBA game and a nice cup of Cherry Chocolate coffee while vegging on my sofa, but here I was on a trail hemmed in by barely budding trees and surrounded by lots of wintery grays and browns. I don't mind wearing clothes with those lovely earth tones, but if I had to be hiking, I expected more from Spring.

     The dullness and potential serenity of this woodsy jaunt could not restrain my 6-year-old caffeine-in-a-bundle, Vincent; his equally frenetic friend Marilee, who was at times literally a blur; and my 12-year-old son Braden, who gamely tried to keep up with the other two.  Vincent took the lead (as he reminded us again and again - "Stop! Wait! I'm the leader!").  Makeshift wooden gun in hand, he fearlessly led us through a gray/brown maze of lingering winter bursting with wolves, superheroes, villains, and invisible zombie giants, as Marilee screamed at...something, I'm not sure what.  Bugs, maybe.

    I must have absorbed some of their energy, because I soon realized this ordinary woods offered a smorgasbord of very cool things. Uprooted trees might not actually be zombie forts, but they were pretty awesome in their own right.  So as the kids screamed and wildly shot giants with their stick guns, I fired up the camera app on my first generation Droid phone and started to see the mystery and wonder of the woods.

     I kept halting their breakneck progress to take pictures; I couldn't help it. Hints of beauty poked through everywhere. Cold, clear streams trickled over smoothed pebbles and under fallen birch branches. Yellow marsh lilies pushed their way through the dead reeds of the slowly warming swamp, pressing against an aging wooden boardwalk.  Almost without my noticing, the child in me reignited a spark of creative life, seeing a late Spring work its miracle where before I had only seen winter's lingering weariness and decay.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Redemption and Hope in a Broken World

         Scripture provides numerous examples of followers of God trying to reconcile their belief in a perfectly good, loving, and powerful God with their circumstances:
  •  Joseph, who was sold into slavery before languishing in Egyptian prisons for years in spite of God’s very personal interaction with him; 
  • David, “a man after God’s own heart,” who spent years of his life on the run from a homicidal king; 
  • Job, an extraordinarily godly man who lost everything; and the disciples of Christ, all of whom faced considerable persecution.
     While some religions view pain as an illusion, an obstacle to be overcome through the correction of the mind, Christianity believes that pain and suffering are very real.  As a result, followers of Christ have sought to develop a theology that provides a coherent framework for understanding this dilemma. Christians face the difficult task of embracing the reality of evil and making it compatible with the existence of God as portrayed in Scripture: all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. 
     Christians have developed different responses to explain why the goodness of God is not compromised in the face of evil, even evil that is apparently unredemptive in any fashion.  Perhaps good things such as free will more than compensate for the pain experienced during life; perhaps, as in John Hick’s appeal to mystery, there are unknown goods that make up for the suffering we see; perhaps there will be a system of rewards and punishments in place after this life that will adequately provide a framework in which one will see the justice and love of God vindicated.  

     Defenders of the Christian faith have developed these explanations, or theodicies, to better understand the ways of God.  A theodicy, rather than being a mere defense of the compatibility of God and evil, seeks to proactively show God’s reasons for allowing evil to occur.  And even though Scripture allows one to peer into and analyze the issue of pain, Scripture often seems less concerned with the defense of God’s character than with the development of individuals as they seek to handle the difficulties in life. 

     This is the religious or emotional aspect of pain, as opposed to the philosophical or apologetic: rather than question the existence of God because of the presence of pain, the religious aspect of the Scriptures helps the believer whose faith is tested by trials.

   The question moves from, “What kind of God could allow this to happen?” to “What is the proper way for me to view instances of suffering and pain?”  We often expect God to meet us on our terms; from a Scriptural perspective, we are required to meet God on his terms. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shoveling the Drive of my Soul

     A strange winter blanketed Traverse City, Michigan this year.

     It didn't snow much; for a town that relies on tourist dollars, no snow news is bad news for snowmobilers and skiers. Personally, I wasn't terribly disappointed - I think I shoveled my drive three times.  But my kids wanted to sled, to build snowmen and make snow angels and fight from snow forts, to have a reason to come inside shivering and miserable and drink too much hot chocolate made with real milk and chocolate syrup.  They wanted a winter that froze their bones, with snow that glistened in the sun, hung on the trees, and buried us in our drive for five or six school days.

   But it hasn't been that kind of winter.

    This spring has been equally odd. In early March, we hit a stretch of eighty degree days, shattering all kinds of records. Confused trees budded; lost ducks returned too quickly; allergies wreaked havoc six weeks early. That was right after the worst snow storm I remember since moving here 15 years ago. We got 30 inches in about 24 hours at my house: heavy, blustery snow that snapped trees and power lines, ushered in states of emergency, and immobilized two minivans in my driveway for a couple days.
     Now we are back to normal, but the grass, flowers, and cherry trees don't know they aren't supposed to be out and about yet, and the frost is taking its toll on their cheery buds. We wanted a spring that gently and beautifully eased us from the snowpocalypse into the ordinary Jimmy Buffet summers of Traverse City  We wanted to shop at Menards, foolishly buying flowers in the heat of the moment that we could actually plant, not move inside every night for four more weeks.

  But it hasn't been that kind of spring.

  My life has had some Traverse City winters.

     I didn't like them; I wanted them to be real winters too. I don't like to grieve a little bit, or be slightly depressed, or just a little disappointed.  If I have to experience a spiritual or emotional winter, I want both barrels so it's worth my time.
     It's one thing to feel kind of down and just mope through the day; it's quite another to curl up on the sofa with an appetizer sampler platter from a local restaurant and bury my depression in The Road and deep-fried anything.  Now that's an emotional winter.  That's what I prefer - not because I like it, but because I can wrap my mind around the problem.  I want to shovel the drive of my soul until my back aches.
     I know I can't get around it, but I don't like just vaguely miss my Dad after watching We Bought A Zoo! That's like having a low-grade inflammation that makes me just queasy enough to feel slightly out of sorts.  I want The Road; I want my loss to hit me like a hammer, to lay me low, to MATTER. I want life to stop as my emotions get snowed in by a blizzard of grief, burying my happiness, snapping my schedule in a way that might take days to fix. I want a really good excuse for hot chocolate.

   That kind of winter.

    My life has had some Traverse City springs. 

    In my heart and soul, I want lilacs and beautiful flowering weeds to slowly and steadily push through last fall's unraked dead leaves and this winter's lingering piles of dirty snow so these persistent annuals can bring their beauty to my soul's decrepit yard.
     I want the hibernating couch potato side of me to overdo my first relational spring hike with my wife.  I want to rake my heart's yard not because I have to, but because the promise of summer love compels me.
     When it comes to spiritual spring, I want to see my character explode, my relationships blossom, my career be full of new momentum and life.
 But that's now how life often works.  

     Winters both spiritual and physical have corroded my soul. They eat slowly away at me, not cold enough to freeze me or brutal enough to move me.  They just...fester.  Nothing is strong enough to break or shut down anything, so I never pay attention like I should.  But there is also nothing to skate, sled, or ski on either. It's a season where nothing has to be ventured, and nothing is gained. It is Laodicean Winter.

   Springs both spiritual and physical tempt me with the promise of renewal, then turn on a moment's notice and freeze the new life that began.  Habits are gone! Until they emerge as methodically as ever.  God is close! Until He's distant. My ADD is contained! Until my brain freezes for a day and leaves my angry, desperate, and isolated. I finally know how to parent! Until I ignore my kids, and snap at them before the coffee kicks in in the morning, and we ride in silence to school.

That's how winter and spring usually work. 

     Ending this post on a really positive note doesn't seem honest.  I believe God honors honesty, and He knows my heart.  He made winter and summer; He knows what it means to be cold and lifeless, as well as to have warmth and hope. He knows I  sometimes don't know why I am unexpectedly cold, surprisingly hopeless, or oddly surprised by tenderness and love.

     He knows how He intended winter and spring to be in the world He first made. He know how they actually are now.

     He also know what summer is for, and that I'm waiting for the warmth of the Son.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bridging the Chasm

   Gary Fritz, writing about a time he was with someone who was dying: 
     "Imagine, if you will, knowingly chatting with and touching someone who would soon be doing the same with the risen, victorious Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is an odd thing to consider. 
     I realize full well that a significant chasm exists between our world and the 'hereafter.' As Christians, we do not embrace the Egyptian-like belief in sending the dead into the netherworld with possessions and tokens that will help them in the afterlife.  But it was tantalizing to imagine that a person who would soon be "there," I could reach out and almost touch eternity.  When I touched her hand, I was keenly aware that she would soon be touching Jesus. 
     The sensation was like one I had when watching the end clips from the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, specifically the scene in which the wardrobe stands alone in an otherwise empty room, its door slightly ajar, and emanating from within it the unmistakable, beckoning light that could only be shining out of Narnia... 
     This was the anticipation of a faithful pilgrim who was ready to leave this vale of tears, the 'shadowlands,' as C.S. Lewis called life here, and move 'further up and further in.'"
- Gary A. Fritz, "Heaven's Gate," in Touchstone

Saturday, March 31, 2012

When God Weeps

Paul Tautges has an excellent site for counseling. As the author or co-author of six books and a number of booklets, he has written about topics ranging from grief recovery to personal discipleship. Recently, he posted a list of God’s purposes in our suffering as found in When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes. It is a list worth considering.
  • Suffering is used to increase our awareness of the sustaining power of God to whom we owe our sustenance (Ps 68:19).
  • God uses suffering to refine, perfect, strengthen, and keep us from falling (Ps 66:8-9Heb 2:10)
  • Suffering allows the life of Christ to be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:7-11)
  • Suffering bankrupts us, making us dependent upon God (2 Cor 12:9)
  • Suffering teaches us humility (2 Cor 12:7).Suffering imparts the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1-11)
  • Suffering teaches us that God is more concerned about character than comfort (Rom 5:3-4Heb 12:10-11)
  • Suffering teaches us that the greatest good of the Christian life is not absence of pain, but Christlikeness (2 Cor 4:8-10Rom 8:28-29)
  • Suffering can be a chastisement from God for sin and rebellion (Ps 107:17)
  • Obedience and self-control are from suffering (Heb 5:8Ps 119:67Rom 5:1-5James 1:2-8Phil 3:10)
  • Voluntary suffering is one way to demonstrate the love of God (2 Cor 8:1-29)
  • Suffering is part of the struggle against sin (Heb 12:4-13)
  • Suffering is part of the struggle against evil men (Ps 27:1237:14-15)
  • Suffering is part of the struggle for the kingdom of God (2 Thess 1:5)
  • Suffering is part of the struggle for the gospel (2 Tim 2:8-9)
  • Suffering is part of the struggle against injustice (1 Pet 2:19)
  • Suffering is part of the struggle for the name of Christ (Acts 5:411 Pet 4:14)
  • Suffering indicates how the righteous become sharers in Christ’s suffering (2 Cor 1:51 Pet 4:12-13).
  • Endurance of suffering is given as a cause for reward (2 Cor 4:172 Tim 2:12)
  • Suffering forces community and the administration of the gifts for the common good (Phil 4:12-15)
  • Suffering binds Christians together into a common or joint purpose (Rev 1:9)
  • Suffering produces discernment, knowledge, and teaches us God’s statutes (Ps 119:66-6771)
  • Through suffering God is able to obtain our broken and contrite spirit which He desires (Ps 51:16-17)
  • Suffering causes us to discipline our minds by making us focus our hope on the grace to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:613)
  • God uses suffering to humble us so He can exalt us at the proper time (1 Pet 5:6-7)
  • Suffering teaches us to number our days so we can present to God a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:7-12)
  • Suffering is sometimes necessary to win the lost (2 Tim 2:8-104:5-6)
  • Suffering strengthens and allows us to comfort others who are weak (2 Cor 1:3-11)
  • Suffering is small compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8)
  • God desires truth in our innermost being and one way He does it is through suffering (Ps 51:6119:17)
  • The equity for suffering will be found in the next life (Ps 58:10-11)
  • Suffering is always coupled with a greater source of grace (2 Tim 1:7-84:16-18)
  • Suffering teaches us to give thanks in times of sorrow (1 Thess 5:172 Cor 1:11)
  • Suffering increases faith (Jer 29:11).Suffering allows God to manifest His care (Ps 56:8)
  • Suffering stretches our hope (Job 13:14-15).