Thursday, May 26, 2011

Questions about pain, suffering, and loss

I've seen a lot of loss recently. A lot of suffering too. Hundreds affected by tornadoes in Missouri and Oklahoma, just this week alone. A friend from work lost everything he had. Everything. Another family lost one child to injuries from the storm. The other was separated from his mother when the tornado hit their home and is still missing.

Things don't seem to be getting any better. In the last year, Haiti and Japan were devastated by earthquakes, Alabama was hit with the worst outbreak of tornadoes in US history, a leaking oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico was finally plugged after months and months of unchallenged damage that may never be repaired- and that is just a few of the things that have happened in the last year. Looks like pain and suffering and tragedy are here to stay.

So what are we supposed to do when it happens? How are we really supposed to cope, to deal with it, especially when it hits us square in the face? Counseling from the other side of the table is easy, especially when we have verses like Romans 8:28, which remind us that God causes all things to work together for the good of those that love Him, that are called according to His purposes. It's easy to quote that. It's easy to say that, but in the moment those words are empty, and meaningless at best, when you feel as if your heart has been ripped out of your chest after loss and tragedy strikes.

I don't know if this any kind of an answer, and I don't know if there's any answer that will be sufficient. But as I think out loud with you as you are reading this, I wonder: would we know what joy is if we did not know suffering? Would we know peace if we did not know turmoil? Would we know love if we have not been hated? Would we know victory if we did not know loss? Maybe you could answer and justify a response that would say "yes", but it seems to me that at least we would not know how sweet joy is if we had not known suffering, or how precious it is to be loved if we had not experienced being unloved.

Seems to me that we come to God with some unrealistic expectations. We expect that God would allow us, a   creation who's inherent goal and joy is to satisfy oneself,  to do whatever the heck we want (which He permits), AND never have to experience any pain, suffering, loss, tragedy, or any other negative emotion from the actions of others, who only truly at their core care about themselves, and will gladly walk all over you to preserve and protect themselves and pursue whatever they fancy. We have this built in expectation that we will always be happy, and that God owes us, that He is obligated to bless us. And when that doesn't happen, we unload and let Him know.

Maybe another question: Would we know mercy if we did not know justice? Or what about grace if we did not know fairness? And if we truly know mercy and grace, would we really still complain when justice and fairness are not satisfied in our lives? It's a curious thing, how we demand the "goodness" of people's hearts to give us mercy and grace when we trespass, and are ready to play executioner at the drop of a hat when someone offends or hurts us- but that's another post...

Seems to me that we lack a proper perspective sometimes. When our perspective is that this world is all that there is, then it would seem reasonable for us to live it up and make the most of it, pursuing whatever makes us happy and scorning whatever would take that away from us. But if we are truly following Christ, having been made new, we know that this world is not our home, that this life is not all that there is. If Christ has defeated the grave and secured victory over the grave for all who are found in Him, then why do we loose so much hope when we experience defeat on the battle field? If the war has been won, then why do we loose heart if a battle is lost?  This isn't to say that there is no pain, no hurt in defeat on the battle lines, but if we aren't able to look up above the trees and see the forest, to see that Christ has conquered the grave, we will understandably drop our heads in defeat and remain defeated. But let's not loose heart, for Christ has overcome this world! We must remember that we do not live for this life, but for the One who gave His life, who gave His life so we can have eternal life with Him.

When tragedy strikes, morn over your loss. Grieve deeply, for the human heart knows that this is not the way things are supposed to be, that pain and suffering and loss are not supposed to be here. But don't grieve alone. Let the Body of Christ love you and encourage you. Let the Holy Spirit lift up your head again and wipe your tears and help you remember that He has overcome this world, that our hope is not in man, but in the God-man; Jesus the Christ. Ask the Lord to give us a heart that understands, and eyes that see. Pray to see the sorrow of life as the means of seeing the sweetness of joy and hope fulfilled in the life to come, and thank the Lord that He truly does cause all things to work together for the good of those that love Him, that are called according to His purposes.

A brutally honest answer to a brutally honest question

The Bible is filled with many commands about how we are to conduct ourselves, how we are to act, and what we should do as Christians. There are many such passages, but arguably the most famous one is the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians chapter 5:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

And since we want to be good Bible-believing and obeying Christians, we strive to carry out the instructions that God has left us in His word. We try really really hard to love others after they just threw us under the bus to save their own skin. We try really really hard to be patient and self controled when the repo man comes and takes away our possessions. We try really really hard to have peace and joy when we just found out that our family was killed in a car accident, or that the company is letting us go and we have no way to make it to the end of the week. 

Fruit of the Spirit? How in the world could I possibly have peace and joy in the midst of circumstances like that? Sure, I might be able to "will" myself to think that way, but it would only be a matter of time for what I was truly thinking to come out. If those things had happened to me, my first response wouldn't be to bless those that curse you or to be self-controlled. I'd rather like to take that fruit and smash it in the  face of whoever just turned my world upside down. 


Now that we have been brutally honest about life and about our struggle to follow God, let's take a step back and ask a basic question: Why? Why would love be a fruit of the Spirit? Why would joy, and peace, and the rest of the list be named among the things that are characteristic of a follower of Christ? Admittedly, these are very difficult questions to answer. But I have found that if you take time to consider these things, to consider why a Christian would have joy and peace and faithfulness, and all the others, If you take time to reflect on who God is and what He has done for us and is doing in us, I am convinced that you will find not just reasons for Christians to be this way, but solid ground for YOU to stand on and BE the kind of fully devoted follower of Christ that is described in this passage.

It's all about perspective, and we have to have an accurate view of reality, one that extends beyond the limits of our world as we know it. If we only focus on our own perspective, then we will only ever see the trees. But if we learn to see things from God's perspective, and to have an eternal perspective, we will then begin to see the forest for all its grander, all it's beauty, and discover how richly blessed we are to know the Lord, who is forever on His throne, working through all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, who loves us beyond imagination and who is forever good and holy, holy, holy.  

It is at this point that we stop trying to create fruit in our life apart from the Vine, and start pursuing the Vine and abiding in Him- Fruit is not the point; the Vine, Jesus Christ, is. When we abide in Him, all these things will become evident in our lives, because the fruit of the Spirit is no longer our goal. Jesus is. We won't have to "try" to be kind and patient and love others and have joy-- it will simply happen when we live surrendered to Him and continually remember who God is and what He has done. The waves will crash, and tragedy will come. But the follower of Christ, who has been made new by Him, will have a hope secure, a solid Rock to stand firm upon, that will enable him or her to endure the struggles and pain of this world and hear our blessed Lord say at the end of our life, "well done, my good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I double-dog dare you...

Good morning everyone:) Just wanted to share a passage from Galatians with you all - i've been reading there a lot recently- kinda like John 6; I can't seem to move on... :)

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,21 envy,t drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:16-25 (ESV)

"walking in the Spirit" is kind of a tough thing to do, let alone describe it.  Recently though, I have been listening to The Vow series that Craig did a few years ago- definitely one of my favorite series that he has done. In the first message, he talked about the vow of priority- God is my one, and my spouse is my two. Craig interviewed Amy about this, and she went on to talk about this very passage - about walking in the Spirit. So... how do we do this? There may be many other answers that get us here, but the first and foremost is that we put God first- the vow of priority; God is my one. Before all things, God comes first.

When we seek God first with our best, we are practicing the vow of priority. When we make time for Bible study and prayer, we practice the vow of priority. When we clear our schedules for lifegroup or church, we - you get the idea...

So then, does the vow of priority, by doing all these things, automatically cause us to walk in the Spirit? Of course not. But I double-dog-dare you to do them and see if you don't notice a greater awareness of what God is doing in your life, experience a greater intimacy with the One who knit you in your mother's womb, and if you don't have a greater joy and sense of gratitude for all that Christ has done, and all that you have in Him. There's much more i want to say, but i think this is plenty long enough for today... agreed? Let me know your thoughts-

1. What things have you done that help you to walk in the Spirit?
2. Describe a time when you noticed the fruit of the Spirit in your life.