Tag: suffering (page 1 of 2)

Don’t waste your fail

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image credit: vmvt.it

When I was in college, working on my undergraduate degree, I had a class in swine production.

I know, I know…sounds just like what you’d expect a guy who would end up as a pastor would study, right?

My path to full-time vocational ministry was not the one of least resistance.

A few times that semester, we got to visit a pig farm, and see the whole production. We’d help with the newborn pigs, watch a feeding time, see how research was conducted (on the research farm on campus), and meet with various workers. It was fascinating.

And made your clothes smell horrible.

There was no faking that you’d been to the pig farm. You had to change clothes and shower before your next class…every time.

One thing that stuck with me from that class was the way that nothing was wasted on the farm. Not even the pigs’ poop.

The poop was piled in a barn, and over the course of a year, the poop would compost, leaving a rich fertilizer that the farmers would use to fertilize the fields that other animals would graze. It was an incredible additive and boost to those fields, giving yields that greatly surpassed the non-fertilized fields. In other words, the poop made the crops grow faster.

Pig poop, though foul-smelling to us humans, contains nutrients that help crops grow really well. After it was harvested and composted (by which time it didn’t stink anymore), it was simply spread across the field in the spring, just before a rain, its nutrients used by the budding crops.

The poop from your past

You’ve got poop in your life. Things you’ve done that you’re not proud of. Things that have been done to you that you wish hadn’t happened. Dreams that you lost, relationships that crumbled. Jobs lost. Marriages destroyed. Addictions that you’re ashamed of. You’ve messed up in a way that you’d hope and pray nobody would ever mess up. You’ve done things…or not done thing…that you never want to repeat.

We typically do one of two things with that pain and suffering:

  1. Ignore it and act like it never happened.
  2. Wallow in it.

Neither is healthy.

Option 1 leaves us judgmental of others who have real pain, ignorant of our own Pharisaical stench. We’re left with a shallow understanding of our sin and pain…and thus a shallow understanding of God’s goodness and grace. Acting like “poop” never happened wastes our pain.

Option 2 leaves us in a crying, heaping, depressed, self-depracating mess. All of the time. We get stuck in what “could’ve been,” what “should’ve been,” and “who I wish I was,” constantly making ourselves pay for our past mistakes over and over again. OR making others pay for our past mistakes by disengaging from those who love us, and who would love to help. Wallowing in our “poop” wastes our pain.

I’ve got a 3rd option, and I take my cue from the pig poop.

Allow your failures to help someone else.

The way God brought you through the junk can help someone else who, right now, can’t see the light. They’re stuck. They’re in the middle of an addiction or the throes of suffering.

Live a life full of grace because you’ve been graced so much by the King. Live a life of love because you were loved first. Live a life of forgiveness because of the heaping amounts of forgiveness you’ve been given that you can never repay. Live a life of generosity because you’ve been given so much.

Your valleys can become great pastures that others can graze from as they see you living life to the full. (John 10:10)

No need to ignore the past. It’s purpose isn’t to hold you back. No need to wallow in it, either.

Let someone else graze from it.

If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:6-7

 

Roots, Fruits, & Getting it Right

I’ve made it no secret that I’m loving me some amateur gardening. My wife and I have tinkered with raised bed gardens now for a few years. We’ve moved the garden, planted different vegetables, started from seeds, started from plants, experimented with fertilizers, sprayed for deer, thrown oranges at deer (and hit them, thank you very much), and had a blast doing it.

But do you know one thing that’s never happened?

We’ve never had a plant that shot its roots towards the sky and its fruit down into the ground.

We’ve never had to say,

Aww shucks (because that’s what gardeners say…), this plant got it wrong…we need to dig it up and turn it over.

Wouldn’t it be weird to see roots growing towards the sky? To have to dig into the ground to get your fresh tomatoes? To wonder, when you planted your squash, whether the plants would guess, correctly or incorrectly, which direction was “up” and which was “down”?

Plants grow the “right” way because God intended them to grow that way. Science may have pinpointed the reason why this happens, but that doesn’t discount the hand of God to sovereignly direct things for His good and our benefit.

The crazy plant

I wonder how often a plant questions its Maker, though.

Wow, how great would it be for me to do things my way? I so hate growing towards the sun. If I could only sink my flowers down deep into this dark soil, things would be much better.

Ridiculous, no? We all know that that won’t work. Roots have to go into the soil. Fruit grows in the sun. (well…unless you’re a potato. But that’s another post for another day) It doesn’t work if this process is reversed. It’s not how plants are supposed to function.

We’re like a crazy plant

We do the same thing, though, in our lives, when we think we know better than God. We ignore the full life that God offers us. We go at life our own way, ignoring the wisdom God offers through others, through Scripture, and through life experiences. We think that we must know better. That our way must be the best. That roots don’t grow deep into the soil. That our roots need a bit of sunshine, and our fruit a bit of darkness.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

But life doesn’t always happen as we’d like it to, does it? What we thought would happen by the time we turn 25 hasn’t. We’re not married. Or we don’t have children. Or we’re not in our dream job yet. Or we don’t have a house. Or we don’t have much money. Or we haven’t finished our degree. Or our dad still doesn’t want a relationship with us. By 40, our kids don’t like us. We’re on our 3rd marriage. Still in debt. Still have a dead-end job. Maybe life has left us trashed.

And life itself has stopped making sense.

If God is who He’s claimed He is, our natural inclination would be to accuse, blame, and turn our backs on the One who has created it all.

But let me challenge you with a better way. I think it’s time to trust the Guy who knew us before He crafted us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). Who knew what He was doing before we were born.

Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when things are chaotic. Even when things are falling apart.

The One who created all of this knows what’s best. His perspective is bigger than ours. His ways are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:8-9) His love is deeper than ours. His joy is more full than ours. And He’s able to bring beauty out of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

Choose to scream and rail and throw your hands in the air if you’d like.

Or choose to let your roots sink deeper…and let your fruit grow upwards.

 

 

Don’t waste your pain

What does it look like to live a good story? Am I living a good story? Why does it matter? I’m blogging as a part of a series today for Prodigal Magazine on what it looks like to live a good story. You can catch the rest of the writers HERE.

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When I was in graduate school, my wife and I joined a small group. Small groups are supposed to be a place of safety, and trust, and growth and encouragement. A place where you form relationships that help you make sense out of life, pursue Jesus together, and enjoy friendship. That’s the bill we were sold, and we bought it. Every Sunday night, we’d trek across town, 35 minutes south, reading our small group study on the way to group (don’t judge us), praying we weren’t the first to be called on to answer a question. Praying we weren’t asked to sign a sheet of paper that said, “I read all of this week’s lesson…before I got in the car to come over here.”

For a season, everything was great. My wife and I were both in seminary, so getting ourselves out of the academic classroom was refreshing for us. As we focused on applying the Scriptures to our lives, we found the Bible coming alive once again.

When things go sideways

But then we had to miss group for 3 weeks in a row. We had to be out of town for various (and might I add, legitimate) reasons, and couldn’t make it to group. The moment I got back in town, our group leader called me, and said, “Ben, I noticed you and Laura have been absent from group for a while now…” and he just kind of let it hang out there, hoping that I would pour out my heart in confession. But I didn’t. I just made things more awkward, letting the silence hang, creating a thick air of tension. My main reason for the silence was because I had no idea what he was driving towards. He pointed out that Laura and I had been absent for a few weeks, questioning our commitment to the group and our integrity as individuals. He said that because of our spotty attendance, there were people in the group who didn’t trust us anymore.

“Because we missed 3 weeks?” I said.

“Yep.” he confidently returned.

He began to unpack his thoughts, calling my integrity into question because, “I just think you’re holding stuff back from the group, Ben…because when we share prayer requests, you don’t cry.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I was…we thought we were committed to the group! “Ok…I get it. This is a joke, right? Joke’s on me! I almost fell for it,” I said.  But as I dug a little deeper, I found that there was a family in the group gossiping about us. They’d pull the leader to the side and plant little thoughts into our leader’s head, calling Laura and me into question. And as far as my lack of crying goes…I’m just not a cryer. Not that there’s anything wrong with guys crying…I make fun of those guys, but there’s nothing wrong with it. (that’s a joke…if you’re offended by that, then cry about it and I’ll make fun of you. :)) I’m not trying to be uber-tough, it’s just not my personality. But it was the personality of some of the guys in the group, and so, because nobody talked with me about this, space was created for people to think I was masking some deep pain. I wasn’t.

Over time, the leader began to believe the lies. Something that was absolutely benign, that could’ve been handled with one conversation, grew to a point where my wife and I were ready to be done with community. We were soon to move anyway, so we were just ready to check out of small groups altogether. Forever.

So we did. We walked away from this great gift God has given his people.

Until I got a call 2 years later from Grace Community Church to be their small groups pastor. Suddenly, this gift was placed back in my lap, and I had to wrestle through the risk of stepping back in, making myself vulnerable once again. I had to figure out whether I believed that biblical community was a gift…or a weapon. I had to discern if God was calling me to help others experience this weapon-gift or not.

4.5 years later, I can tell you with great certainty that I’ve found an area of life and ministry that I’ll give the rest of my life to promote. “Community” is a value that I hold in high regard. It was through frustration, though, that I found it. Had I not experienced the dark side of community, I wouldn’t value healthy, authentic, biblical community like I do.

Isn’t it funny how God works?

Isn’t it funny how God uses pain and frustration to shape who you’re becoming? How He uses an event or a relationship or a season of life to shake us to our core, and cause us to question so many things. And through that, mold us into who He created us to be.

I’m quick to pray the prayer, “God, please remove this suffering…I don’t like it.” But I have found that prayer, in my life, to be a reflection of an immature side of my faith. Instead, I’ve learned to pray, “God, through this suffering, give me eyes to see what you’re up to.” I wish I could say that my knee-jerk reaction to anything difficult in life is this prayer. Alas, I’m a work in progress.

It’s not wrong to ask God to remove pain. But through pain, don’t miss what God’s teaching you. Don’t miss the bigger picture that He’s up to, and how He’s ready and willing to use your pain to help others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)

Don’t waste your pain. Let God use it.

Question:

What pain, that you’re experiencing right now, might God be using to shape you into who He created you to be?

What pain, that you’re experiencing right now, might God use to change someone else’s view of life, difficulties, and Jesus?

 

 

When you don’t know what to say to someone who’s hurting, try saying…

____________________________________________…

Because sometimes listening and weeping is more valuable than words you can muster up.

(see Job 2:11-13)

 

When it doesn’t go right, part 2

I noted a few things HERE that we can rightly say our circumstances are not.  Today, let’s look at a few things our circumstances are.

When “life” happens, remember

1. Circumstances give you a chance to slow down. Moving through life at blazing speeds is something that most of us do well.  When trials happen, you’re forced to slow down, and given the chance to evaluate things.  Use that time wisely!

2. God is in control of all things. Even when everything seems to fall apart, reminding yourself that God is ultimately in control is a great source of hope. (Ecclesiastes 7:14; John 10:27-29Colossians 1:17)

3. You need others to help you discern the hand of God. We gravitate to quick, rash decisions…and paralyzation, waiting forever before doing anything.  But it is within the counsel of other godly men and women that wisdom is found. (Proverbs 13:20Proverbs 15:22)  Others who love you, have your best interest at heart, and are committed to helping you grow rightly give counsel to help you see where God’s working.  (see my related posts on the value of small groups HERE)

4. Circumstances don’t control the outcome of your life. Your relationship with God does.  If they begin to control your life, it’s because you’ve given them that power, because Christ is greater than he who is in the world.  (1 John 4:4)

This is what the Lord says:
Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord .
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit. –Jeremiah 17:5-8

Ever felt like you were controlled by your circumstances?

Ever worked through the difficulties and found God at work the whole time?

 

When it doesn’t go right

Ever hit a rough spot in life?


The Bible’s full of people hitting rough spots.

In 2 Chronicles 32, it says that Hezekiah (the king of Judah in the early 700s – late 600s b.c.) had just finished doing what the Lord had asked him to do.  In distributing food to the people, in following the laws and commands of the Lord, and in all that he did, he sought the Lord wholeheartedly.  He was very successful. (2 Chronicles 31:20-21)  Yet it was in the midst of this success that he was invaded by his enemy, the King of Assyria.
The people must have quickly lost hope.  I’m sure some said, “We followed God, now this?!?”  But Hezekiah encouraged the people with this:
Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!” Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people.
So how should we view our circumstances?  The ups and downs of life?  Should we look at them as a door…opening and closing to different possibilities?  Or should we look at them as an indicator of our spiritual health?

Here are a few things we can rightly say that circumstances are not:

1. Circumstances aren’t a good barometer for how you’re living your life. Hezekiah was following the Lord with all of his heart.  He was seeking God wholeheartedly.  Yet things were still crumbling around him.  There can be a connection with how you’re living your life and the natural consequences you reap…but not always.  I’ve heard people say that, when things fall apart, there must be some unconfessed sin in your heart that God’s punishing you for.  Thankfully, I don’t think that God operates like that.  If He worked off of a scale, and every sin I committed meant I got a given punishment, then my life would be a mess most of the time.   I’m so thankful Christ has paid my ransom.
2. Circumstances aren’t a good barometer for how you should plan your life. If they were, then every time you failed a test, you could assume that God didn’t want you to finish school; every time you got sick, you could assume that God didn’t want you to do whatever you were set out to do; every time you were short on money, you could assume God wants you to do whatever it takes to get more money.  Don’t plan your life around circumstances…plan them around what God’s called you to do.  Circumstances are complicated.  And if you’ll sit down and think through it, you could just as easily convince yourself that God’s leading you to do something as He is asking you not to do that same thing.  Circumstances may help confirm the Lord’s work, but because of the work of Satan (which God allows…see Job 1.6-12), it’s hard to know for certain that a given situation is the Lord’s direct work.
3. Circumstances aren’t a good barometer for whether the Lord is with you or not. Hezekiah’s circumstances, from man’s perspective, looked pretty awful.  He was being attacked!  But the Lord was certainly with them.  Just because you’re under attack doesn’t mean that the Lord has left you.  In fact, He may have allowed you to come under attack so that He could rescue you.  One thing he clearly loves to do. (see…the whole Bible)

If you find yourself in some difficult times, take hope that God’s not left you.  He doesn’t do that. He works right in the midst of the difficulties.
I’ll post tomorrow about some things we can rightly assert about our circumstances.  But until then,
Have you ever used circumstances, in and of themselves, to make a decision?
Have you found any of the above to be true in your life?
 

Don’t make it worse

Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart
is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound (Proverbs 25:20)

Sometimes, our counsel can make things worse.

We feel like we’re being helpful, but in reality, we make life more painful and difficult to bear.

So next time someone you know is dealing with a lot of life, and isn’t sure how to handle it, don’t try singing a happy song.  Don’t sugar coat things and tell them that it’s not that bad.  Because maybe it is that bad.

Instead, try weeping with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Or just being quiet. (Job 2:13)

Or pointing them to the unchanging hope of life with Christ.  Not to the quickly fading hope of a good and easy life on earth. (2 Corinthians 1:5)


 

Tragedy & the work of God

If you’ve been affected by the flood in Clarksville, Grace would like to help.  Just go to this site HERE and let us know what we can do.

It’s often in the midst of tragedy that God works most powerfully in a person’s life.

Life can clip along just fine for years and years.  That normal, frenetic pace of life lulls us to spiritual sleep.  Into a coma of sorts that makes us feel like we’re in control, that we don’t need others, and that we certainly don’t need God.  Because, when you have a successful career, a nice home, a nice family, and are fulfilling the “American dream,” what else could you ask for?

But it’s suffering that helps remind us that we have very little control of our lives.  No matter what you do, you can’t safeguard your life against disaster.  Try as you may, suffering will find you.  And you can continue to try to put up fences, sandbags, walls, and defenses against disaster…but no part of life is outside the reach of Tragedy.

The point of suffering is many-fold, and I don’t presume to know exactly what God’s up to when He allows certain things.  But one thing is certain (in addition to the fact that Satan is out to steal, kill, and destroy” – John 10:10).  “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)  It’s when we recognize our position in relationship with God that we find true security.  Feelings of safety and ease are just that…feelings.  When “life” happens, we find that the only safe place to rest is clinging tight to the One who holds life in His hands.

May we show Christ to be our all surpassing Treasure, and not the stuff of earth that is quickly fleeting.

And may we, out of that relationship, offer hope and help to a world left stunned and confused when life falls apart.


 

Is God evil?

Is God evil?

Of course not.  Well…most would agree that He’s not.

But does God allow evil things to happen?

Take a peek into a conversation that Job had with his wife:

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity?  Curse God and die.”  But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak.  Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  In all this, Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10)

Did God cause this evil to happen to Job?  No.  The verses prior say

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores… (Job 2:7-8)

We are quick to praise God for the good things that happen to us, and give Him credit for all of the blessings we receive.

But aren’t we also quick to shake our fists at God when things don’t go as we would like?  When we don’t get that promotion.  When we get sick.  When our children get sick.  When our marriage isn’t what we want it to be.  When all of our efforts fall flat.  When we strive with all of our might, yet get nowhere.

I don’t presume to know why God does what He does.

But this passage says that God allows evil things to happen.  And if you read through the first few chapters of the book of Job, you get some insight into how God worked, and how He allowed Satan to work on a short leash.  God didn’t cause evil.  But He allowed it with a purpose.

So if God allows evil to exist, does that make Him evil?  That’s a question you need to wrestle through yourself.  I’ve wrestled through it.  Last week, I was sick.  Not deathly sick.  But sick enough to stay home from work.  I felt rotten.  I had some sort of mild case of the flu, mixed with an ear infection, an eye infection, a sore throat, a sinuses that were trashed.  I also lost my voice.

And last week was one of the most important weeks for me in my job at Grace. I needed my voice.  And I needed to be at 100%.

So why would God allow me to be sick?  Here are a couple of reasons I came up with.  For purpose of generalization, I’ll call it “suffering.”  Some of you may laugh at this being called suffering, and honestly, I would, too, but suffering has varying ranges.  Bear with me.

A Non-exhaustive list of reasons God allows suffering

1. Suffering slows us down.  Our lives race on at such a fast pace that sometimes we just need to slow down.

2. Suffering causes us to think less of this life on earth and long for a better life.  When you’re going through suffering, life on earth isn’t as much fun.  We don’t value it as much as when everything is rosy.  We long for something better.

3. Suffering gives us time to reflect and evaluate.  What does your relationship with God look like when you’re falling apart physically?  Do you only praise God when everything is perfect?  Job was a great example of a man who praised God in the good times and in the bad. (Job 1:20-22)

4. Suffering puts the most important things in perspective.  When we are going through suffering, perishable things don’t matter as much.  We tend to devalue those things that are temporary.

5. Suffering allows us to be comforted by others.  If you never suffer, you can never receive the blessing of being encouraged and comforted by others.

6. Suffering reminds us we’re not in control.  When everything is going our way, we can slide into the thought process that we’re really controlling our future.  Suffering brings us back to the reality that we really have very little control.

7. Suffering allows us to be healed.  God is the ultimate healer, and we would never get to see that aspect of God, and receive that great blessing, if it weren’t for suffering.

8. Suffering, and recovering, helps us to comfort those whom we will come in contact with who suffer similarly.  Although suffering tends to make us quite self-centered, I believe one of it’s main purposes is so that, after God (and others) comforts us, we can extend that same love and care to others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

9. Suffering gives us the chance to see who our real friends are.  Job had some pretty rotten friends (Job 4-25, 32).  Those who truly love us will stick by in good times and in bad.  And ultimately they want what’s best for us.

10. …

What would you add?

 

Rob Bell, Drops Like Stars

Drops Like StarsI was able to see Rob Bell at TPAC’s War Memorial on December 9th.  I like Rob.  I think he’s innovative, pushing the Church to think outside of the proverbial box.  I thoroughly enjoyed his lecture.  It was a fascinating look at suffering, seeking to not answer the question of “Why, God?!?” but “What now?”  It was a compelling lecture/sermon, and if Rob Bell happens to come to your town, I highly suggest picking up a few tickets, and taking a few key leaders along with you.  You won’t be disappointed.

But can I nitpick for a minute (and that’s all it is…nitpicking.  If Rob could further explain himself on this point, it might have made more sense.  But, nonetheless…)?  In talking about the “art of solidarity, and the ways that suffering helps to bond us as we build community through shared suffering,” Bell mentioned “the cross, the ultimate act of peace and reconciliation.  God didn’t avoid suffering.”  Instead, God is with us through it.  Then he shared this:

The point of the incarnation is that there’s someone else screaming alongside us.

I get what he’s saying.  There’s comfort in the midst of suffering when we know we’re not alone.  And I believe that.  Suffering is eased when we live life in relationship with others who can share that burden with us.  That’s part of the goal of the Church (and the means of achieving that goal, too).  And knowing that God doesn’t leave me to my own devices when I suffer is a source of comfort.  However, it is not the point of the incarnation.

The main point of the incarnation is not that we have someone to walk through painful situations with us.

The point of the incarnation is that we weren’t good enough to save ourselves. Because of our sin, we needed God himself to come and die the death that we deserved.

A sidebar (and I think it’s important to make that subtle distinction) of the incarnation is that God is with us through suffering.  But it’s only a sidebar, at best.  The much better news is not that God is present with us through suffering, but that the suffering Christ endured is ONCE FOR ALL!  I don’t want to serve a God who merely weeps with me.  I want to serve a God who redeems me, who is more powerful than suffering, and who is willing and able to create a world where there is no suffering (Revelation 21:4), no crying, no pain, no death.

Don’t point people to the incarnation as God’s identifying suffering and weeping along with us.  Point people to the incarnation as hope that suffering will one day be complete.

Do you want a God who weeps with you? Or One who will redeem you from the curse of pain?

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 
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