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Wednesday
Feb122014

Suffering – and how to come alongside of those who do!

 

This is not a blog with a neat, tidy conclusion – these are thoughts from my heart to yours and I strongly encourage you to grapple with the subject on your own.  Many people in your life are suffering in some form or other – where is God in the midst of it?

 

Philip Yancey wrote a book which is still a classic – “Where is God When it Hurts” --- a key question for all of us, isn’t it?  Yancey goes on to say, “There is something unique about having only God to lean on.  Suffering, the great equalizer, brings us to a point where we may realize our urgent need for redemption.  Those who suffer rest their security not on things, which often cannot be enjoyed and may soon be taken away, but rather on people.”


Joni Eareckson Tada has said … “I know firsthand that pain and paralysis sometimes seem to push away the presence of God.”

 

I have been giving a lot of thought to suffering lately – particularly in light of two women I’ve been talking with, both have expressed “tickedness” at God. Why doesn’t He DOOOOOO something for me, with all I’m going through and for others who are hurting.  There is so much suffering in this world over which others have no control – death, loss, illness, abuse, hatred, sex trafficking, hardship.

 

I admit that I can’t grasp God’s plans – or thoughts – or reasoning.  In fact, I was looking up a couple of verses related to our thoughts -  Psalms 94:11 – “The Lord knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile.”  And Isaiah 55:8 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  And I think to myself – what does that mean anyway?  Does it mean I can’t comprehend; I’m not on his wave length; I’m too sinful to have righteous thoughts --- probably all of the above. 

 

Yet He certainly understands us, our thoughts, our suffering first-hand…”He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering, like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” – Isaiah 53:3.  So while we can’t discern the thoughts and mind of God, he definitely understands our minds and thoughts and he understands our suffering.  Somehow when we suffer, we are participating in the sufferings of Christ.  I have never really understood that concept --- somehow it’s tied in to I Peter 2:20-21, “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?  But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.”… “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

 

And from Romans 8:17-18, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

 

He gets it – He really, really gets it.  In fact, in Hebrews we are told, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”

 

So then, what might be the antidote for the pain and suffering sometimes ‘pushing away the presence of God’ as Joni Eareckson Tada describes?  We must look at truth!  

 

Fact:  God has promised never to leave us, never to forsake us!

Fact:  We are suffering.

Fact:  (Most often) If our pain has pushed God away, it is in our perception and most likely because of our anger.

Fact:  We need to come to grips with the source of our anger.

Fact:  Once we identify the source of our anger, we need to recognize that anger is a part of grief.

Fact:  We need to identify specifically what it is that we are grieving.

Fact:  We need to realize that grief is a process rather than an event and takes as long as it takes.

Fact:  We need to have someone in our life we can talk with about our grief and our anger.

 

Suffering takes many forms and has multiple roots.  I find that it can be important to ask God to help identify the root of the anger and the grief.  And in identifying we sometimes are able to better understand and accept God’s comfort, His care, His provision and His love. 

 

Grapple on with the pain of suffering – and remember that “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalms 34:18

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan222014

“But I can carry you!”

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions – in fact, I don’t really think that way.  Rather, I like to remember things I already know that apply to a new year – things like:

God is a God of new beginnings” …. Whether in the new year or on this new day.  “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

He will never leave us nor forsake us.”  Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”

“Live in the Present.”  “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Keep doing what God calls us to do.”  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Don’t forget those who have less.”  “We should continue to remember the poor.”  From the Jason Gray song, “We bring the kingdom come with every act of love.”

God loves us no matter what.”  “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

His grace is enough.”  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  From the Phil Wickham song – This is Amazing Grace – “This is amazing grace; this is unfailing love, that you would take my place, that you would bear my cross, you would lay down your life that I would be set free.  Jesus, I sing for all that you’ve done for me.”

I need to be a dispenser of God’s love and His grace.”  “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”

We have a New Year’s Eve tradition (and the two evenings leading up to NYE) of watching the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy – one movie each evening, culminating in the “Return of the King.”  What amazing life lessons there are to learn from J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings.  Each year as we watch there are ‘new’ things that strike me, as though I had never seen nor heard that particular thought or phrase or analogy.  This one from Samwise Gamgee in a dialogue with Frodo was particularly powerful for me this year (from “The Fellowship of the Ring”) -

Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you! 

And another from “Fellowship of the Ring” –

I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. "Don't you leave him Samwise Gamgee." And I don't mean to. I don't mean to.

So….this year I want to be faithful, and loving and grace-filled and honoring to God – and though I can’t carry the burdens God has given you to carry, I CAN come alongside of you and share those burdens.

May God bless us as we walk together into 2014.

 

Friday
May312013

Weeding My Garden,

I knelt last week in my yard, trying to dig and pull out the unwanted grass that literally lined the inside of a narrow flower bed, separated from the lawn in our backyard by a flagstone border.  Why wasn’t that grass on the outside of the border rather than on the inside – in with all the rest of the grass where it was supposed to be….then I wouldn’t have to pull or dig it out?  It was hard work, sometimes kneeling, sometimes bending, sometimes pulling and all the time realizing that if it didn’t come out, the garden would look ugly and untended the rest of the summer and perhaps more significant was the fact that the unwanted grass and weeds would continue to grow and expand and infringe upon the space needed for the flowers to thrive.  There was no easy, quick fix…it took hard work and persistence.

That same day I pulled numerous weeds and raked up dried debris leftover from the winter from a side-yard-garden for which Ken had already purchased rose bushes to plant.   I had a lot of time to think that day.  Pulling weeds, raking dead leaves, digging out unwanted grass does not engage the mind too heavily!

I began to ponder my life and the weeds therein and the similarities involved in the process of extracting said weeds from my life as those in my garden.  Interesting ponderables!  Getting rid of those areas in our lives that are unbecoming and infringing upon health do not happen easily or quickly.  There are very few ‘quick fixes;’ however, God does give us instructions how to proceed --- nowhere does He say it is okay to be passive or ignore those areas that need attention…to just let them go and grow.  Listen to these words from Hebrews 12 – “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  We must make choices to dig out, pull, tug, let go of, throw off and get rid of those things that hold us back from following Him and His plan for us – that hinder Kingdom work.  The Hebrews passage clearly tells us that letting those things stay untended in our lives will cause entanglement and hinder us from running the race that He has marked out for us…it is our race…He has marked the course…He is the starter…we must do our part, and He will strengthen us for the journey, He will encourage us along the way, He will guide us across the finish line.”

Considering Him for me involves what I choose to spend my time thinking about.  The verses in Philippians 4 have recently been engaging my mind..."Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

May we keep our eyes focused on Him as we consider Him and all that He endured for us to make it possible for us to finish – and finish well the race marked out for us!

Tuesday
Apr092013

Barb’s Blog, “From the Inside Out” 4.9.13

Sometimes one gets weary – and weariness is a difficult thing to write about.  Weariness is more than being tired and in need of a good night’s sleep.  Weariness is being in need of renewal, refreshment, rejuvenating.  I have been reminded numerous times of the need to be renewed.  What does renewal look like?  And --- where does it come from?   Is renewal external or internal?  Does a good meal, perhaps a nap, a fun movie help?  Perhaps a walk or a run or a drive?  Listening to some really good music?  Maybe a shopping trip or coffee with a good friend or sitting down with a good book?  While these things may help to a greater or lesser degree – depending upon an individual’s preferences – are they really enough?  What does it take to begin the process of renewal?  When life gets incredibly heavy and you feel depleted, there are, of course, a variety of ways to fill up an empty bucket.  However, if the filling does not at least include some means of internal filling, the bucket will be ‘leaky!’

Psalm 23 is a favorite of many.  Usually we think of Psalm 23 when we are planning a funeral or memorial service, and certainly it is appropriate in that setting – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  He is indeed the One who brings comfort – and He understands the valley through which we travel.  But … go back to the verses above… “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.”  Yes, when we come to verse 3 of Psalm 23, we read this phrase – “He restores my soul.”  That recently has been revelatory to me as I ponder and understand that my soul really only receives filling when a loving God, a very loving Shepherd, fills up that empty soul.  No matter how many naps we take; no matter the coffees we have with friends; no matter the funny movies; no matter the books; no matter the music – unless He is the restorer of our soul, we will not be truly restored. 

I’ve given a lot of thought to how that might happen.   Restoring my soul happens for me when I take time … time to think, time to pray, time to refresh, time to allow the One who knows me, really knows me, knows my depletion, knows my burdens, knows what I need … knows my need for restoration, to begin the restoration process from the inside out!  This kind of inside-out-renewing takes time – it cannot be rushed!  It is easy to think – well, I had a day off….I took a nap….I had a good conversation about ‘that’…I should be better.  In fact, there may be a temporary sense of re-energy; however, soon the weariness in one’s bones returns and it is apparent that renewal is still needed.  God knows what we need; He knows the time table; He is the restorer.  It is also important to realize that I may be renewed in my soul and still be bone-weary….those are two separate things.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  It is from Him we learn; it is through Him we are restored; He understands.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?”  He loves us!   He knows!  He is able!  He is enough!

 

 

Wednesday
Jan162013

Yet Another New Beginning

As you look backward and do a little history taking from last year (2012), the ‘new beginnings’ you experienced perhaps were not what you might have expected or wished for or desired.  Some of you have gone through immeasurable losses this past year – of loved ones or finances or employment or relationships.  Your ‘look back’ through 2012, is a mixed bag.  In fact, you may even be saying ‘where was God through ……”  (You fill in your blank!)  As I declare again that God is a God of new beginnings,  I think in the midst of life’s disappointments and difficult times, it is important to remind ourselves of some things we DO know:

God is good
He is God
He is ever faithful
even when the healing does not come – and everything around us seems to fall apart!  He is still God and good and faithful and remained with us throughout all of 2012 – not just through those times when ‘life seemed good’ and we prospered – in relationships and finances and employment and family!  -- God is indeed a God of new beginnings – and here we are in 2013!  I wonder what ‘new beginnings’ He has for you or for me?  Because God is a God of grace and mercy, He understands my heart and my hurts and my needs.  If you are like me, you hope for a good 2013 --- health for you and your family, joy in your heart, opportunities to reach out to people in need, the privilege of work and providing for your needs and those of your family.  And … those things are all relatively important; however, I wonder if there is something more important that may involve a little ‘self, heart surgery!’  If we could do a pro-active surgery on ourselves, on our own heart and if we were willing to be really honest with ourselves, evaluating what we need to do or allow God to change within us to become more the woman or man God intends for us to be in 2013 – what might those things be that need looking at – and perhaps changing? Would there be old habits that need to be gotten rid of?  We hear talk around us of our ‘bucket list’….what if we had a “God, change me ….” Bucket list?  “God is indeed a God of new beginnings…” New year; new beginning.  Right?  There are many things that begin anew in a new year – new taxes, new calendar, new semester in school, new weight loss program, new resolutions, new classes, opportunity for a fresh start.  It’s the time of year we begin thinking of cleaning house – out with the old; in with the new.  It is into this New Year (2013) that Jesus comes, loving us and wanting to form us more into His own image.  He lovingly gives us opportunity to listen above any other to His own voice … “My sheep hear My voice and they know Me” (from John 10).  Jesus comes to make all things new … not to take us out of our difficulties and joblessness and pain and suffering … but in the midst of those things that are STILL happening in our lives, to give us a new beginning WHILE in the midst of it all.  He wants to give us fresh eyes, an alternative perspective in our recognition that He is with us; that He will never leave us nor forsake us; that “In this world you WILL have suffering; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”  He wants us to understand that He is a redeeming God and can bring wholeness and newness out of broken pieces.  I definitely don’t have it all figured out.  I struggle, too.  I deal with disappointments as well.  I definitely don’t always understand God’s ways.  I hurt like you, but I am confident of this -- “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies are new every morning, Great is His faithfulness.”  God is a God of new beginnings –

What is on your “God Change Me Bucket List?”