An initial response of resistance – God still calls

“Another striking aspect of these stories (call narratives): even though people almost always have an initial response of resistance, God never reacts by saying, ‘Oh, I can see where this would be pretty scary.  Okay, never mind.  I’ll get somebody else.’ “- John Ortberg

Today John Ortberg discusses the second and third consistent patterns found in biblical call narratives.

2.  Response.  After God summons someone to serve Him, in every case the person God interrupts gives his or her reaction directly to God.  And, almost always, their first response is fear.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“If there is a challenge in front of you, a course of action that could cause you to grow and that would be helpful to people around you, but you find yourself scared about it, there’s a real good chance that God is in that challenge.”

Conversely, John adds, if you’re not facing challenges to big for you and you haven’t felt afraid in a while, that’s a good sign you’ve been sitting in that chair too long.  Thus, when God makes the call, we need to roll the dice.

3.  Reassurance.  Because God knows people get scared, He makes them a promise.  Like Joshua and Gideon, God promises to be with us.

Yet, we cannot deduce from the Lord’s promise that nothing bad will happen to us.  On the other hand, we can’t just sit there.  God promises that nothing separates us from His love- not suffering, hurt, or even death.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg comments on the musings of Christian journalist Greg Devoy:

“Christian journalist Greg Devoy has said that Jesus promised those who would follow him only three things: that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.  The problem is that most of us figure two out of three ain’t bad.”

Today’s question: When have you given an initial response of resistance to God’s calling?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What raw material we all wrestle with”

Jesus deeply affirms our suffering

“Although Jesus deeply affirms our suffering, and although he catches each tear and profoundly understands every trial we have walked through, the suffering isn’t meant to be the focus of our lives.  Jesus must be the focus.”- Ann Swindell

As Ann Swindell concludes Chapter 7 of Still Waiting, she asserts we miss the point when we take Jesus’ affirmation of our suffering as carte blanche to worship our suffering.  As a result, suffering feels bigger than anything else in life, especially Jesus.

Thus, Ann observes, when we worship our pain rather than Jesus:

  • a sense of self-pity seeps in
  • we find ourselves thinking adversity = our cross to bear, our struggle, our pain
  • that pain “worship” threatens to unseat God in His place of authority
  • we make an idol of our suffering as we allow that suffering to become the biggest thing in our mind and heart

Therefore, Ann emphasizes, you must ask yourself this question: Do I want to be healed?  In order for healing to happen, you need to shift your focus from your suffering to Jesus.  Fix your eyes on the truth of His Word.   Hence, when you put your suffering above Jesus, Ms. Swindell states, you start:

  1. seeing the endurance of your pain, suffering, and struggles as the high pitch of your experience
  2. demanding that Jesus heal you
  3. setting the end of suffering as the goal of your relationship with God
  4. making yourself and your suffering the center of the story you’re living

In conclusion, the author admits:

” . . . it’s hard to live in the tension of letting Jesus acknowledge and affirm our suffering without allowing the suffering itself to become the focus.  It can feel like a teeter-totter constantly tipping toward one extreme or the other. . . .  to avoid navel-gazing, we must practice Christ-gazing.”

Consequently, Jesus has the final word, not our suffering.  As Ann says, that’s good news indeed!

Today’s question: How would you witness that Jesus deeply affirms your suffering?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Risk – the only way forward”

The genuine pain and sorrow in every heart

“Jesus knows the suffering that each of us carries, and he knows the genuine pain and sorrow in every heart.”- Ann Swindell

“You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.”- Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

In Chapter 7 (“When Waiting Feels Like Suffering”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell references the suffering of the Bleeding Woman.  Ann states that the hardest kind of suffering comes not from the body, but from the spirit.  While physical suffering is hard enough, the weight around one’s soul feels impossible to carry.  Such suffering renews itself every sunrise.

Furthermore, the waiting itself feels like suffering.  In response, the author asks, should you put on your big girl or big boy pants, acting if no problem exists?  Ann doesn’t think that’s what Jesus is asking of us.

Therefore, Ms. Swindell believes, Jesus doesn’t minimize our suffering or suggest that we toughen up.  Rather, Jesus validates our pain and acknowledges our suffering.  Ann explains as she compares Jesus’ response to the Bleeding Woman’s suffering with His response to the death of Jairus’ daughter.  The author writes:

“But.  But her [Bleeding Woman] suffering was significant to Jesus.  He understood that her waiting had been part of her suffering — that the waiting itself had caused her suffering.  And that suffering mattered to him. . . .  Jesus validated her suffering by stopping for her, by seeking her out. . . .  In the face of another person’s death, in fact, he affirmed her search for healing and her faith in his ability to do so.  Only Jesus can hold things like this in tandem.”

Thus, regardless of how the word ranks pain, only Jesus sees all pain as real and valid.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you see that Jesus validates the genuine pain and sorrow in your heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Jesus deeply affirms our suffering”

Moving on the wave of God

“When we do suffer with someone else, even a little, we may be sure we are moving on the wave of God.  We are doing what God does.”- Lewis Smedes, How Can It Be Alright When Everything Is Wrong? (1992)

“There is a world of difference between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . . , he describes two ways to suffer.  As somebody once wrote, you can suffer from something, or you can suffer with someone.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“As a victim of adversity, I suffer from illness, or injury, or mosquitoes.  But I suffer with someone when I choose to take that person’s suffering unto myself as an act of intimacy, a shared experience. . . .  Suffering with is an act of tremendous intimacy.”

However, as John reminds us, a world of difference exists between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.  A friend of John’s once took his ten-year-old son Andrew fly-fishing.  For three days in a row, they fished for a few hours after lunch.  They caught nothing.  But, another fisherman observing their futility told them to try at 5:30 AM.

By 7:45 the next morning, they still hadn’t caught a thing.  After hearing Andrew’s pleas, the father permitted five more casts.  On the fifth cast, Andrew caught a northern pike.  As a result, Andrew reasoned, God’s name must be “the God of the fifth cast.”

In relationships, Pastor Ortberg observes, suffering often leads to impatience.  Yet, one thing enables us to sit quietly during times of suffering – knowing that we serve “the God of the fifth cast.”

When philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s twenty-five-year-old son died in a mountain-climbing accident, he didn’t find a God who explains our suffering.  Rather, Nicholas found a God who enters our suffering.  In Lament for a Son, Nicholas writes:

“GOD IS LOVE.  That is why he suffers. . . .  God is suffering love.  So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. . . .  The tears of God are the meaning of history.”

Finally, John states, to keep hope you must give it away.  As you give hope to others in love, you receive it most yourself.

Today’s question: How do you move on the wave of God as you suffer with someone else?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Embraced by God – making space for others”

Groaning in suffering builds intimacy

“The difference between grumbling and groaning has a similar effect on intimacy, whether with God or with people: Groaning in suffering builds intimacy.  Grumbling destroys intimacy.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg continues Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . .  as he offers additional distinctions between groaning and grumbling.  John takes special note that, in the Bible, people groaned on their knees.  Because sorrow, suffering, and adversity drove them there.  In contrast, people grumbled privately in their tents.  There they felt free to exaggerate, play the victim, and thus excuse their own lack of obedience.  Pastor Ortberg summarizes:

Groaning

  • builds intimacy with God and people
  • you speak directly to God – holding nothing back
  • views suffering in the larger context of others who have suffered
  • includes awareness of our own sin – confession
  • calls us to be our best selves; honest struggle to cling to God in difficulty
  • God-centered, even when God seems absent

Grumbling

  • destroys intimacy
  • contagious
  • you exaggerate suffering to justify your negative attitude
  • makes irritations and inconveniences known to everyone around you

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg stresses, when other people experience trouble, sensitive people just show up.  Thus, they provide a ministry of presence.  In addition, sensitive people:

  1. learn not to compare.  Since each instance of suffering is unique, each sufferer responds in his/her own unique way.  As a result, comparison fails to help the situation.
  2. do practical things.  John states that helpful people never say, “If I can do anything, please call me.”  Because helpful people know how hollow that statement rings.  Rather than waiting for a call, they just act.
  3. don’t try to comfort prematurely.  Sensitive people don’t pretend to have answers or seek to lessen the pain with an explanation.  Instead, they allow the dignity of suffering.
  4. watch for surprising moments of gratitude.

Today’s question: Currently, what describes your response to adversity – groaning or grumbling?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Moving on the wave of God”

Stare at the glory of God – good beholding

“Stare at the glory of God until you see it.”- Ray Ortlund

“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”- 2 Corinthians 3:7 (NIV)

Jared C. Wilson concludes Chapter 3 of The Imperfect Disciple as he states Christ’s glory far exceeds the glory of the law.  In fact, Jonathan Edwards once compared Christ’s glory to the sun rising in its strength and eclipsing the stars.

Thus, Jared asserts, Christianity’s essential message isn’t “do” but “done.”  As a result, the author adds, the direct route to God-honoring behavior consists not of good behavior, but of good beholding.

True release, then, comes when God changes who you are.  That change comes through Christ’s cross becoming your cross.  Jared exhorts:

“Don’t believe the lie that always struggling to obey God is a lot worse than disobeying him with peace.  God did not make us to ‘feel good inside’ (or outside) all the time this side of heaven; he made us to share in the suffering of Christ, that we might also share in his resurrection.”

In conclusion, as long as we live in what Jared refers to as the bittersweet limbo of simul justus en peccator (Latin – righteous and at the same time a sinner), we’ll struggle to see the glory.  We’ll always fight that battle this side of heaven.

However, we must not get so busy trying to do great things for God that we forget to look at His glory.  Then we’ll never quite behold it.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you stare at the glory of God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Spiritual disciplines – religious duties or relational delights?”

Discover the beauty in sorrow

Removal of stained glass windows from Luther South’s chapel.

“We have lost the beauty in sorrow, so we try to get out of pain as quickly as possible. . . . But life will let all of us down, and we need a way to talk about it — a way we have lost along the way.”- Esther Fleece

“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”- Lamentations 3:31-33

Founded in 1951, Luther South prospered under the leadership of Principal Walter Steinberg.  According to the Southwest News Herald, over 1200 students attended South during its heyday in the 60s.  Yet, when the school closed in June of 2014, enrollment stood at 145.  In December of 2016, alumni were invited to Luther South Memorabilia Days for a final opportunity to walk the halls and purchase items from their years at South.  Currently, the building faces likely demolition.  However, Pastor Joel A. C. Dietrich (Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Beecher, IL) preserved the stained glass windows.  Originally donated by his grandparents, the windows will be installed at Saint Paul.

In her book No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece states the majority of us have said or heard the following clichés during times of suffering.  These conversation stoppers include:

  • “If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”
  • “It could have been worse.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”

Ms. Fleece contends that these clichés exist because we’ve lost the biblical language of lament.  As D. A. Carson, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School writes, no Scriptural evidence exists to “fake it till you make it.”  Dr. Carson asserts:

“There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash  the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering.  They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God.  Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

Therefore, the pathway of lament makes way for God to come and work His healing as we honestly express ourselves.  In lament, God refines, renews, holds, and transforms us.  As a result of our honest prayers, unrestrained lament, and trusting dependence, authentic praise flows from our souls.  That’s when, Esther notes, we discover the beauty in sorrow.

In conclusion, Louie and Shelley Giglio (Passion City Church, Atlanta) describe the beauty in sorrow.  They write in the Forward to Ms. Fleece’s book:

“The beautiful nature of lament is that it has a beginning and an end.  No one is meant to live forever in grief and sorrow, yet without it, our life loses all meaning and our sense of immeasurable joy that is intended for our journey.  Without lament, there is no joy.”

Success is Who you have

“Success is not what you have; success is Who you have.”- Dr. Tony Evans

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”- Genesis 50:20

In Chapter 14 (“The Peace of Detours”) of Detours, Dr. Tony Evans takes special note of the order in which things occurred in Genesis 50:20.  Thus, keeping this perspective in mind enables you to face life’s challenges, disappointments, pain, and confusion head on.  Hence, Dr. Evans wants you to see this order: Evil.  God.  Good.

We see this pattern throughout Scripture.  God transforms the pain and suffering of this present life when He’s brought to bear on it.  Tony explains:

“That’s why God must be an integral part of your everyday existence and not just a visit here or there.  God doesn’t want visitation privileges with you on the weekends.  He wants to be your best friend.  He wants to be your partner.”

As a result, bloom where you’re planted.  Wherever you are right now, work faithfully and serve willingly.  Joyfully submit and fully honor God.

Therefore, Dr. Evans exhorts, live obediently where God’s placed you. Of course, people tend to give up on God where they’re down.  Consequently, Dr. Evans challenges you to change your perspective:

“The more miserable things get, the more aggressive you should go after Him.  It’s easy to praise God in the sunshine, but if it’s storming in your life right now and darkness is all you see, force praise from your mouth.  Run to Him in the dark. . . . And lastly, be patient.”

As Tony quips, too many people want a microwave God, but God often functions more like a Crock-Pot!

Today’s question: What Bible verses sustain confidence in Who you have?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The worst kind of waiting there is”

Generous in sharing our brokenness

“Generosity does give birth to intimacy — but there’s a far deeper intimacy when we’re generous in sharing our brokenness.”- Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp begins Chapter 18 (“Why You Don’t Have to Be Afraid to Be Broken”) with a definition of faith.  Ms. Voskamp defines faith as “confidence in the kindness of God, no matter the confusion of circumstances.”

Furthermore, in that confusion of circumstances, it’s more than fearing any broken things.  We’re afraid to burden others with our problems.  Rather than break anyone’s heart, we bury our hurt.

Yet, Ann adds, we all need a safe place to come with our mess of broken.  Therefore, Ann offers the following thought on suffering:

“Maybe you can’t compare suffering, can’t rank or minimize suffering, but simply embrace it and all others suffering too.”

This, then, makes it possible for communion to happen.  Ann posits that communion only can happen when:

  • not only our strong parts are broken and given, but when we give our broken parts also
  • we give each other our brokenness
  • everything given out of our brokenness shows greater love through our willingness to suffer

Ann notes that we can’t imagine how great a capacity our heart has for pain.  That’s because our heart loves far greater than ever imagined.

As a result, Ann encourages, everyone needs someone to sit with them in the burn.  Ann describes what happens:

“This can turn the flames into a holy blaze.  Someone just choosing to be with you in the fire with a bit of theirs — can turn out to be better than anyone trying to extinguish your fire.  Shared flames and shared burn scars can ignite hearts into a great fire that fights fire.”

Today’s question: Please respond to Ann’s opening statement that “there’s a far deeper intimacy when we’re generous in sharing our brokenness.”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Full cruciformity”

Daily giving your presence to one

“There’s more abundance in daily giving your presence to one than daily diligence for the furtherance of hundreds.”- Ann Voskamp

Concluding Chapter 17 of The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp lists other traits of compassion.  Compassion is:

  • not a trite feeling of the heart as much as a willing breaking open of the heart
  • always dying to bits of you- the only way to experience a resurrection
  • crawling in under someone else’s skin and connecting to their heart like its  yours
  • profoundly purifying and sanctifying, God-glorifying and soul-unifying — and ultimately, life-satisfying

Furthermore, Ms. Voskamp emphasizes, the lost art of lament signals the beginning of the broken way.  Therefore, to feel authentically loved by God, we must authentically lament to God.  Lament spells out God’s abandonment, accepts His ache, and finally abandons to His will.

In the midst of suffering, one needs to feel arms close more than trying to pinpoint clarifying arguments.  Ms. Voskamp explains the role of God’s people:

“God’s people . . . create communities around suffering, co-suffering communities to absorb suffering and see it transform into cruciform grace.  This will cost us [and] remake us into the image of Christ.”

As a result, because the broken way made our cosmos, the greatest power of the universe = the suffering of a brokenhearted love.  In conclusion, Ann emphasizes:

“Suffering is not a problem that needs a solution as much as it’s an experience that needs compassion (emphasis Ann’s).”

Today’s question: What moments have occurred for daily giving your presence to one?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Incarnate the gospel”