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).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crying Yet Again

I woke crying early this morning. Again.

I awoke from a dream in which I had been talking with my mom.  In my dream, I turned and looked to the side and there was my Dad, just sitting next to me, looking at me and smiling slightly as if he were still alive and close. 

This was not like the dreams I have written about before where the veil between this world and the next seemed temporarily lifted so that I could have those final conversations with my father.  This was in many ways just an ordinary, bizarre dream:  I think I was in a desert, riding on a ski lift of up side of a mountain. 

Unlike those dreams that followed his burial so closely, I didn’t even try to talk with dad. I've had ten years to figure out that he is gone. I get it.  I sobbed while I talked to my mom steadily, knowing dad wasn’t there, and that he wasn’t real, and that I couldn’t talk to him, and that my life had to carry on in the worlds of both the sleeping and awake.  So glad to see him yet again, and so sad knowing it was for but a moment.

I didn’t look away until he disappeared from his desert ski lift seat, dissolving into distant memories as easily as he had appeared. I knew he would go, and that I would have to wake up, but it still broke my heart from start to finish. I never tried to touch him or talk to him.  I just...remembered him more poignantly than I usually do, and that was enough.  It had to be.

That’s why I woke up crying early this morning.

Someday, when I truly wake up, all the best dreams will be real. Comfort one another with these words.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two Kinds of Winter

"Winter is Coming." So says Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones to anyone who will listen. His warnings were not the ramblings of a man who hated cold bones and deep snow, but the warnings of a king who knew the Deep Winter brought monsters to ravage the land, robbing the people of their souls.  Summer will arrive in Winterfell eventually, but not for everyone.  This winter will be long and cruel, and unfortunately the monsters outside the door may not be that much worse than the ones inside the castle.
     Winter is coming.  It is a phrase that resonates with me since I moved to Traverse City.  In Alabama, the land of my youth, we welcomed the cool respite of winter.  Not so much in the frozen north.
I went hiking with my boys and my dog along the Boardman River today in Traverse City. We were all ready to get out and do something at the end of a long, Northern Michigan winter. Trixie splashed through the stream while Braden climbed trees and Vincent ran as far in front of us as he could, red jacket bobbing through the trees.

Summer is coming.Winter is leaving, but not without a struggle.  Last weekend, 30 inches of snow fell in about 24 hours.  If there was ever a time I have seen creation groan in Michigan, it was then.  The snow was mercilessly heavy, snapping trees and power lines, stranding thousands without heat or power, and forcing the closure of schools and churches.  The last month of Winter roared its way into our lives with one final gasp, unwilling to let us go, but unable to stop the changing of the times.


Summer is coming. The sun is out this week. Irises poke through my flowerbeds; little rivulets run along the side of road; the flitting birds around the feeder sound a bit more buoyant and hopeful.  Last weekend, I saw a huge flock of geese searching a snowy cornfield for a little extra food; today the swans were gliding across a sun-drenched Boardman Lake.  Last weekend, my oldest son made a snowball six feet high; today he practiced track outside in shorts and a T-shirt.

I have learned how to grudgingly appreciate some things about the winter months.  You can do some pretty cool things with snow.  But I have also experienced some seasons in life that have reminded me of a deeper reality.
There is more than one kind of winter. 

Ten years ago, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; two years ago, my youngest son was tested for autism; several times in our 22 years of marriage, my wife was forced to wrestle her way through the aftermath of miscarriages.  Twice in my life, I have felt the doom of a nervous breakdown approaching slowly, heavily, inexorably.
     With the arrival of these winters came monsters grim and terrible.  Somewhere, a beautiful summer offered warmth and life.  Some days, I did not believe it. But it was true, nonetheless.

But there is also more than one kind of summer.

 In a realm beyond this mortal coil, there is warmth; there is hope; there is life.  Winter is only a season.  In several cases, summer came quickly. My youngest son still has some challenges, but he does not have autism; my wife has grieved, but she has also battled through the valleys and shadows of lost children and dreams.  My nervous breakdowns were not the end of my life; by God's grace I recovered and moved on, older and hopefully wiser.
    On the other hand, my dad lost his life in that harshest of seasons. His winter ended quickly, but mine had just begun.  That season has taken longer to change, but warmth has trickled back in slowly, and a ten-year-old blizzard is now trickling in small streams along the road of life. The One who gave new life to my father has been faithful to bring warmth to a lonely, cold son.

And so I hiked today with my boys, grateful that summer is coming, and that winter is only one season after all.

     In Revelation, John makes the curious comment that the new Heaven and Earth will have "no more sea."  That makes sense - not because water is evil, but because a non-seafaring Jewish nation saw the waters of the deep as the home of the worst terrors in the world.  
     Perhaps if John had lived here, he would have promised "no more winter," not because snow is bad, but because we know what it means to be cold, and we long for the son.

     I have no doubt that I will be cold again. On this side of heaven, summer is just a season too.  But one day the Son will warm the world for good, and the true winters of life will be forgotten as I hike farther up and farther in to a land that never grows cold.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wintery Theology

    We got about 2 feet of snow here in Traverse City last night.  The view from my window this morning was beautiful.


But the beauty of winter is a mixed blessing. While the snow hangs delightfully on the trees, and my boys made a 6-foot-tall snowball, and snowmobilers are out in force, there is downside. Thousands are without power, a lot of people ended up in the ditch, and the city declared a State of Emergency.
 
In my own yard I see this tension between beauty and pain. The branches on the apple tree hang to the ground like a wintery willow, but some of those branches will break, and I will not get apples next fall.  My dog loved playing in the snow - but my dogwoods were smashed to the ground by the weight of the storm.

     Winter is one of those seasons that highlights the tension between the pain embedded in a fallen creation and the beauty that still lingers from God's original design.  Winter has moments that remind us what this world could have been like if it had not fallen: a world where the beauty of snow does not carry with it the danger of death and destruction; a world in which happiness and awe do not have to be tempered by the sobering reality of death and destruction. While we enjoy the displays of God's creativity and power, in the background we hear the groaning of a creation waiting for redemption. (Or was that my boys when I told them it was time to shovel?)

  In Game of Thrones, Eddard Stark keeps warning people: "Winter is coming."  For us, winter is already here.  There is a season in which living things die, killed by that which is simultaneously beautiful, stark, glorious and dark. We live in a world inhabited by a lot of things that go bump in the night, that crouch just around the corner waiting to do us in.  If we are not careful, our very souls become wintery, frozen and blustery, refusing to see the beauty around us as we slide into the ditches that rob us of life.

    But Spring is on the way. New life is just around the corner.  The winter of our discontent does not have to turn into a life of disillusionment.  Even on the coldest, most blustery days, God embeds his beautiful, broken world with reminders that He is not limited by the ravaging effect that our freely chosen sin has had on our existence.  Even as I type this, I know that underneath the snow in my front yard hyacinths have already broken through, ready for the warmth and life of spring.
 
   The world may be temporarily broken - it is still wintery - but it is still His.  And He is pretty good at putting things right.

                                        video

Thursday, March 1, 2012

BOOK REVIEW


As a self-published author, PR is crucial.  I have been overwhelmed at times by how many people graciously go out of their way to read, interview, and write as I bug them as part of my "Shameless Self-Promotion Tour." It's humbling, believe me.  I was just informed of another review today, and I am grateful once again.  An excerpt from CSI (Christian Schools International) 
In a grief memoir, I expected to find romantic poets, crusty theologians, and maybe a mega-church youth pastor or two. Instead, each chapter began with quotes from some of my favorite writers: Elie Weisel, J.R.R. Tolkein, Stephen R. Donaldson, Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, and Voltaire. And the quotes were thought provoking and, above all, authentic, adjectives that also describe the memoir that comes wrapped in these quotes.  
Oh, if you are interested in the book, click on the picture in the right hand column of this blog to go to the website, or just go to amazon.com.