I Blame God…

Grief

I love getting comments on my posts from those who happen across my blog.  Just recently a reader left a comment in response to an earlier post about how he does blame God for his singleness.  Seeing as there may well be a lot of you out there who may overtly or covertly feel the same way, I thought that it might be a useful thing to talk about again.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9 (ESV)

All of us at one time or another throughout our lives have been horribly disappointed or monumentally let down.  This does seem to be the nature of humanity:  to at some time in our lives passionately hope for something only to be eventually disappointed.  Perhaps it’s because of what we hope for, or how we express our hopes, or how persistently we cling to them against all odds that makes the disappoint in the end so intense.  I am confident that we all have, or will, have this happen to us at some point in our lives.

Now, there are 2 basic responses to disappointment:  1).  camping out at that point of disappointment and making the rest of your life about that issue, or 2).  mourning the loss of that particular hope and then moving on.

Sometimes the intesity of the hope lost precludes ones ability to move on.  You feel compelled to stay in that place of disappointment, circling it, staring at it, grieving it, wishing that it had worked out differently, creating worlds in your mind where it did work out differently.  Mourning the loss of a hope or expectation is natural and, should I even say, healthy.  I think a problem arises, though, when we refuse to let it go.  When after a while the grieving becomes a habit that we are unwilling to give up, when we literally get STUCK in this place of disappointment and sacrifice our future to mourning this lost hope.

At that point it almost seems like we WANT to be stuck in our sorrow.  That we want to warn all that pass of the vanity and futility of hope.  Is this a ‘dog in a manger type response’ (eg. if I can’t have happiness neither can you) or do we really think that hope is dangerous and best avoided?

C.S. Lewis published a little book called A Grief Observed.  In it are journal entries from the early days after he lost his wife to cancer.  Now, as I understand it, Lewis never really wanted to get married but fell into it to help a young lady and her children.  He fell in love with her though and was heart broken when she died.  Imagine his grief–he was a happy confirmed bachelor who was ‘dragged’ into marriage, discovered an unexpected joy in it, then loses it again.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Tennyson

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?  I do not know.  I sit firmly in the camp of those who have ‘never loved at all’ so I will have to let you read Lewis’ book, consider your own experience and come up with your own opinion on the matter.

I think that the important point to make here is that if you have been seriously disappointed in your life, being single when you dream of marriage, being alone when you dream of togetherness, being solo when all you want is a duo, remember this:  if you stay stuck in the mire of your dead hopes things will never change.  If you insist on camping out at that spot of disappointment, whatever you think of God, you will always be there, surrounded by your broken dreams and sorrows, and you will never fulfill any of your other potential.  Unless you take courage and walk out the front door you will always be looking at the same four walls.

It does take courage to walk out that door, to move on.  Especially if you’ve been stuck for some years.  To move on means that you might be disappointed again, your hopes might be shattered again.  But, then again you might find a promise fulfilled or joy in a different place than you expected.  When you move on, instead of your lost hope being a weight around your neck, it can become an extra bit of character that gives you strength and courage and that will help you to stand strong–‘I went through pain and suffering but I made it through,’ or ‘it didn’t come to STAY, it came to PASS.’

We do not need to be stuck in our sorrow.  We can choose to move on.  And we will see things that we never expected and may even find joy in that which brought us the most sorrow.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

You are not alone! (aka the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics)

You know, I am an Olympi-holic.  All Olympics, all the time!  Specially the Winter Olympics.  And oh, have I had a lot of fun watching all of the events this time around!

COC Photo by Jason Ransom

COC Photo by Jason Ransom

Unlike the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics are smaller, easier to keep on top of, easier to watch all of the events and cheer on all of our #TeamCanada Olympians (insert your own team name in at this point 😉 ).

Something struck me the other day as I was watching the free-style ski jumping.  I was thinking about the pressure these athletes are under during their event–all these years of training and focussing and preparing and now it is all on them.  No one can help them now.  They are on their own…

Then, as I was contemplating this, my interest was drawn to the replay of the jump of one of the skiers.  As they showed the jump from a different angle, I could see the athlete’s coach standing off to the side but under the jumper screaming encouragement and advice!  During the entire complicated, crazy flipping, twisting, upside-down time the athlete can hear his coach guiding and encouraging him/her!

What a great example of life as a Christian single and, really, as a married as well.  As we walk through the path that God has laid out for us, as we follow these crazy flipping, twisting, inside-out and upside-down experiences, although it may appear to some that we walk this path alone, the reality is that through every twist and turn our Coach is there with us, encouraging us and providing guidance every crazy step of the way.

What a great lesson to take home from this phenomenal sporting event.  I knew the Olympics couldn’t be just for fun!

Happy or Holy?

So I was talking with a friend yesterday and he said something quite singular.  He told me that if someone had enough faith that they would not have any medical problems.  He thought that this is what “overcoming” meant–that the problem would disappear.  When I asked why he thought this, he said that God is a good God and all He wants is for us to be happy.cherubim with harp

Now, I have already talked about health in a couple of blogs last year (Christians and illness, Parts I and II–found in the ‘Misconceptions’ category) so I won’t go into that again.  What I do want to discuss is the idea that the main thing God wants is for us to be happy.

Yes, I realize that some may raise their eyebrows at what I’m going to say next but here it is:  God’s goal for us is not for us to be happy, but rather for us to be holy.

This is a very important distinction.  This defines God’s purpose in our lives.  Let me explain.

If above all else God wants us to be happy, then why can’t we just live our lives the way we want to?  Why can’t we just do as we please?  Why does He interfere with our lives by telling us to “love our neighbours as ourselves?” (Mark 12:31).

Do you really think that Abraham was happier leaving his home to travel to a land that he’d never seen before (Genesis 12)?  Don’t you think Joseph would have been happier to skip out on being sold into slavery and ending up in prison in Egypt (Genesis 37, 39 – 46)?  Would Moses not have been happier living as a prince in Egypt instead of wandering in the desert for 40 years (Exodus)?

For that matter, would not Christ have been happier staying in heaven and reigning as the Son of God than living on earth and dying on the cross?  If all God wanted was for His children to be happy he would likely not have sent Christ to this earth at all.

So why did God let these things happen to these His children?  Because He wants much more for us than to be “happy.”  He wants us to grow, to mature, to aspire to holiness, to become more than we even imagined that we could!  Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.  2 Corinthians 7:1b NIV

Imagine Esther’s surprise at being picked by the great King Xerxes as his wife in place of Vashti!  But do you think that she was made queen so that she would be happy?  When the Israelites came under attack, even though it would put her life at risk, Mordecai, her uncle, encouraged her to petition the King.  He said to her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 NIV

And what are we told about Christ?  “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  Hebrews 5:8,9 NIV

We hear Christ say that “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NKJV

So it would seem that as the children of God we can expect hardship and difficulties.  We can expect suffering that tests our faith.  This does NOT sound very nice or encouraging. It’s actually rather disheartening.  But listen to this encouragement…

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Romans 5:3,4 NIV

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2 – 4 NIV

So, it kind of sounds like we should not only expect suffering, that we should look forward to it because God uses it to mold and mature us!   To help us to become holy like Himself.  I don’t know about you, but this process doesn’t make me overly happy. In the end, however, we will earn more than a little happiness–we will have pure joy!

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh. 22
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
Luke 6:20 – 23

Now that it has become clear that we will suffer as Christians, we need to realize that our hardships are for a higher purpose, not only to build us into stronger and better people but often to improve things for those around us.  Consider what Joseph said to his brothers after they had sold him into slavery and finally found him in Egypt as the second in command to Pharoah:  “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Genesis 45:6 NIV

And from Paul:  “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.  Philippians 1:12 – 15 NIV

But do not lose heart.  We don’t have to do this on our own strength.  Christ said in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  NIV

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  NIV

We may not always be happy, but we will be working on holiness with every hardship we persevere through, with every illness we overcome, with every obstacle that we navigate through.  So it is not because you lack faith that these things come your way; it is to help you gain faith!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 NIV

Holy is much better than happy! 😀

Part 2: Christians and Illness

Booker T Washington, Presidential advisor

Booker T Washington, Presidential advisor

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.
–Booker  T. Washington

My friend made an interesting comment the other day.  She said that she felt that a lot of Christians no longer believe that God heals people in this day and age.  You know, as sad as this is, I think she is right.

I think this is partly because people aren’t LOOKING for God to heal these days.  I was talking with my colleagues about the 55 million dollar lottery a few weeks ago and joked that I guessed that I would have to actually BUY a ticket if I wanted to win.  Then I asked them where one would buy a ticket.  They laughed at me because apparently there are places to buy tickets all over the place–but I hadn’t seen them because I wasn’t looking for them.  This is what must be happening in today’s world with North American Christians–they aren’t looking for God to heal so they don’t see it.

How can I say this so confidently?  In my church in just the last year God has miraculously healed at least 2 people (that we know of) from imminently fatal illnesses.  I’m not used to seeing His healing this up close and personal, but I must say it was quite obviously His work.

So now the questions come–why do we who are God’s people have illnesses in the first place?  If I pray and ask for healing, will God not heal me from all of my illnesses?  And so why hasn’t He?

This next comment will NOT make me beloved of the masses, but here goes.

I do not think that God heals every illness of every Christian every time.

And it’s not because we are not ‘prayerful’ enough or ‘obedient’ enough or ‘Christian’ enough.  No, it’s because God wants what’s best for us, not what’s comfortable for us.  I’m sure that if we were different creatures and He had any other way to do things He would.  But we aren’t and there isn’t and He still wants what’s best for us.

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2 – 4 NIV

If you look at the early Christians you will see quickly that their lives were not easy or without challenges.  Most of the first Christians were persecuted and murdered–think of Stephen…

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.  Acts 7:55 – 58a NIV

We are not promised an easy life as Christians.  We are promised that because of Christ we WILL have trouble and persecutions.

22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Matthew 10:22, 23a NIV

Note that this verse does not say you ‘may’ be hated or that you ‘may’ be persecuted–it says the you WILL be hated and WHEN you are persecuted.  Life will be hard as a Christian.

But now that I’ve totally depressed you, there is GOOD news!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you
will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 ESV

Aha!  That beautiful word ‘overcome’.  My friend reminded me as we talked about these issues that, praise God, we are overcomers through Christ!  What exactly does ‘overcome’ mean?

OVERCOME

  • Succeed in dealing with (a problem or difficulty).
  • Defeat (an opponent); prevail:  “they overcame the guards”;  “we shall overcome”.

Synonyms:  overpower – vanquish – conquer – defeat – surmount – beat
(thanks to Google and Miriam Webster Dictionary)

To overcome does not mean that the obstacle was removed.  Think of this:  you are a military trainee and you have to make it through an obstacle course in a certain amount of time to pass the physical requirements.  Of course (!) one of the obstacles is The Wall–you have to make your way over the 3.7 m (12 foot) wall to continue on through the course and eventually finish.  It will be tough.  But would you get credit for this obstacle if you just ran around it and continued?  Or if you had your friends pull the wall out of the way so you could just run straight through that area?  Obviously not!  You don’t overcome things by having them taken away.  The benefit to you and me is to, with God’s help, climb over our obstacles and continue.  To OVER-come.

Paul realized the meaning of ‘overcome’.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7b – 10 NIV

He knew that to walk through difficulty and hardships still praising God DESPITE these obstacles would reveal God more clearly to the world.

I think Satan uses our obstacles, our illnesses, our trials to distract us.  While our eyes are on this impediment we do not have our eyes on Christ and so we are stuck, so to speak.  We can’t move on or do anything for Christ when we are like this so we are no threat to Satan (just the way he likes us).

I’ve often heard it said that bravery is not defined by one who is not afraid to do something, but rather as one who does something scary or dangerous DESPITE being afraid.  I think we can consider our illnesses and trials in the same way.  One who overcomes is not someone who proceeds successfully through life WITHOUT obstacles, but one who does so DESPITE obstacles.

Christ exalts us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).  Perhaps this means to take up those things that may hinder us (illness, disapointments, losses) and follow Him, just as He took up His cross for us.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18 NIV

Does this mean that God doesn’t heal anymore and that we should not bother to pray for healing for our friends, colleagues, neighbours and even ourselves?  Absolutely not!  What this means is that we may pray a bit differently–for God to heal physically if it is His will, but if not (*****see Daniel 3:16 – 18), that He will comfort his child and strengthen them and carry them through their circumstances, according to His will.

And you must pray to Him, believing and expecting, for His will to be done. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14, 15 NIV

God wants us to grow, to be strong, to be like Christ.  He doesn’t want us comfortable, He wants us ready.

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.
–Napolean Hill

Part 1: Pre-quel for Christians and Illness

So I promised on Twitter that my next post would be on Christians and Illness.  Well, I’m finding it a hard one to present properly–it’s a tough topic.  My friend suggested to me that perhaps I should split it into 2 posts, which was a great idea.  I’m not sure that this is exactly what I’m really doing…I think this post is more of a laying of the foundation for the next post.  A pre-quel, shall we say.  Yah.  Let’s give it a try.

So why illness?  Of all the trials in our lives, I think illness brings us to our knees the most painfully because it hits so close to home.  Think of Job.  God allowed Satan to attack his livestock, his servants and his family but his health was off limits.  22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.  (Job 1:22 NIV)

But Satan knows our failings…

4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”  Job 2:4,5

So our health is a compelling weakness.

Even Christ had to overcome trauma to his body prior to and during his crucification.  In fact, this was part of the Plan.   8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”  Hebrews 5:8,9  He did suffer more than physically (betrayal, separation from God on the cross, etc) but I think it is evident that he must have suffered greatly from the physical abuse alone.

The suffering is what revealed his perfection to the world.  And he is our example…it’s not too surprising, therefore, that we also will find our health attacked.

Paul showed that he understood this in Colossians.  24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.”  Colossians 1:24 NKJV

Really, to be honest, C.S. Lewis does a great job discussing why Christians have illness and suffering in his fab book, The Problem of Pain, so if you want to dig deeper into this issue and just can’t wait for my next post, this is where I would start.

Alright–3 things to remember:  1.  our health is a weak spot for us and Satan knows this.  2.  Christ experienced severe physical pain himself.  3. Christ walks through every minute of every day, through every painful moment, with you.

Footprints
By Margaret Fishback Powers

One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
one belonged to him and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life
there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened
at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it.
“LORD, you said once I decided to follow you,
you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when I needed You the most
You would leave me.”

The LORD replied,
“My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you.
During your times of trials and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

Pastor David

A few weeks ago we had visitors at our church, Pastor David and his wife.  Pastor David is an amazing Christian man.  His story is that he was born in Vietnam into a “very Buddhist” family.  I’m not entirely sure what happened but through a miracle of God’s grace one of the members of their family’s life was saved (I think) and so the entire family became Christians.

I don’t personally know but I imagine it was a hard life being a Christian in a “very Buddhist” society.  I’m pretty sure you would feel alone and at times find yourself in some tough situations.

Then, Pastor David and his family and friends were thrown in prison during the Vietnam war.  I don’t even want to think what atrocities they suffered at the hands of other men.  But eventually they were released and ended up in Canada a while later (praise God!).

I think we singles have a good idea of what it is like to be immersed in a society were we stick out, where we sometimes seem like we’re the only ones.  We might even feel alone and find ourselves in some tough situations sometimes…

I think, though, that we can learn from Pastor David who has been through so much in his life.

The pastor of my church later told me that he had asked Pastor David to say the closing prayer for our service that morning but Pastor David said no.

I was surprised (seriously!  What pastor turns down a chance to speak, let alone pray?).

So I asked my pastor why Pastor David turned him down.  I was expecting to hear that he was worried about his english but instead Pastor Ralph said that he didn’t want to pray amidst our congregation yet because he always cries when he prays.

This man, who has been through well more than we can even imagine, cries every time he talks to the Living God!  Our God of grace who has seen Pastor David through incredible times can still evoke in this man a intense feeling of gratitude to his Creator and sense of wonder at how such a great God can love one so undeserving.

Wow.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons for our heartache and pain, for our aloneness and sorrow–that we might learn to truly appreciate what God has done for us and to give us a chance for God to teach us true gratitude.

Bless you, Pastor David!