Why God?, Honesty, Anger, and Lament: Psalm 74:1


A Maskil of Asaph.
God, why have you abandoned us forever?
Why does your anger smolder at the sheep of your own pasture?
-Psalm 74:1

I learned and taught not to ask God why.  But here it is in scripture.  We have permission to ask why.  But we don’t have a license to judge God. 

The negative on the why question is that God won’t usually answer that, but what he wants to do is to reveal himself to us (his character) in our situation.  It is natural to cry out, “Why?”, when a bad thing happens; and that is what we have here in Psalm 74.

A Maskil of Asaph.
Why have you rejected us forever, God?
Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture?
-Psalm 74:1

Psalm 74 is a brutally honest prayer, by someone who believes in God’s power to restore, and is a true patriot; but is honest to God about the bad way it is, right now.

(I wrote about Asaph, and an introduction to Psalm 74, in my post, Psalm 74:8)

Why have you rejected us forever, God?

Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture?
-Psalm 74:1

Notes from Don Williams:

There is a moral order after all, and God is to be known in judgement as well as redemption.  This means that life is no neutral zone where the will of God is inoperative.  Rather, life is a battle zone where the will of God and the will of human beings (and the devil himself) are in continual conflict.  Thus Israel experiences not God’s indifference or her own ambiguity, but she feels God’s judgement when the roof falls in.  As Augustine puts it, if we reject God’s mercy we are only left with His wrath.

Commentators identify this psalm as a corporate lament.  When the roof falls in upon us, we are not to despair and indulge in the nihilism of the age.  Rather, we are to pray.  In Jesus we know that beyond God’s judgement is His grace.  Here is our covenant, sealed in the Savior’s blood.  And as God restores His church we too will praise Him.

(Don Williams, The Communicators Commentary, 1989, Psalms 73-150. )

Why is this verse and this whole psalm and many others like it, in the Bible?  Is God a rejecting God and does God get angry with his people?

Is Jesus different than the Father, or the Holy Spirit?  Is God the Father prone to grouchiness?  Are pictures, projected images of God, that aren’t exactly accurate; allowed to be part of inspired scripture?  Is God so secure with himself that he permits us to misunderstand who he is?

Does God love us so much that he cares more about our being honest than being correct?  Isn’t religion about being righteous, “right-ness”?  Self-righteousness is the antithesis of a loving relationship with God.
God wants us to come as we are and let him make us righteous.  Becoming devoted.

God’s religion for us is devotion to Him, with a growing spirituality, where we are being transformed by Him, in an ongoing relationship.  In this, we are friends and lovers of God.  Friends and true loves are honest with one another.  This is what God has always had for us.

We want to be honest to God, because honesty is the basis for an intimate relationship.  God already knows how we hurt and what we feel.  When we tell Him it helps us and gives Him pleasure.  Friends and lovers tell each other what is bothering them.  It’s odd not to share problems.  All that is to say that we can tell God how it is, straight up.
Examples:

“Why have you rejected us?”

“I am depressed!”

“I want to be married!”

“I lost my job!”

“I have no church!”

“I can’t find a good church!”

“I am sick!”

“We are divided!”

“My calling was aborted!”

“People hate me!”

A Maskil of Asaph.
Why have you rejected us forever, God? 

Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture?
-Psalm 74:1

Are you still mad at us and are we still in a time-out?  There is a way to say this, to God, that is not blasphemous, that does not take God’s name in vain.

There are things we can not know or can not understand. But we can always ask. We are allowed to be disappointed and even angry. We just can’t judge God.

Questioning and being very upset are what you do with someone you love and you know loves you.
It would be odd not to.

“Johnny Get Angry”, is a song that conveys how anger is a form of true love. Passivity and indifference are not love. We sometimes have sharp words and argue with those we love. The couple who never fight may not have a very passionate marriage.

God’s anger at his kids is not abusive or hateful.

“Esau I hated”, means, “that guy did something very distasteful to me.”  It’s like hating brussel sprouts or hating hypocrisy.  It is normal to be angry with someone you love.  God is that way and he made us to be lovingly angry too.

If God is angry with us, it is based on his love, his care.  And we want to know why, because we love him.  

To not ever become angry with someone either means you don’t care or there’s really no depth to the relationship.  We get angry about things relating to the ones we care about

Christian couples may delude themselves that fighting looks bad (is unspiritual), so we don’t.   What’s the result?

But God does get angry at us and he models us getting angry at one another.  There is healthy anger (good and godly), and unhealthy (destructive and sinful) anger.  It is written, “Be angry and sin not”.  But, we live in an angry society and it’s the destructive kind called rage.

Learning how to be angry is part of learning how to love.  I remember a lady who said she was, “going to get up in God’s face”, and tell him how upset she was.  Some people were taken aback by this statement, but she was expressing healthy anger towards someone she loves deeply.

God is love.  But God also gets angry.  If we think God is angry, we might want to ask him about it.  Are you angry and if so, why?  “Those whom I love, I rebuke”.  The rainbow is a symbol of???  (Genesis 9)

There is a proverb that says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love”.  This is wisdom from God and how God wants us to function with one another and towards him.  Flattery is a great sin.  Real worship is not flattery, but raw, honesty.  The highest form of worship is lament.

We ought to tell God the truth.  We can’t get healed or get a plan on what to do next, if we do not start with honesty.  God is not a person who has, “things he doesn’t want to hear”.  He actually wants to hear you tell him the things you are afraid to say, that are offensive to you.

A Maskil of Asaph.
Why have you rejected us forever, God? 
Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture?
-Psalm 74:1

This is an honest prayer.  We know that God does not reject his people forever, here on earth, in history.
But the psalmist felt this way and said it, wrote it, probably set it to music and invited others to sing a sad song.

___________________________
Here’s a link to article for the image just above:

Even In Our Darkness – Review of Jack Deere’s Memoir

Jack Deere’s memoir is shocking and naked, unvarnished and raw.  It is the story of a boy and a man, whom God loves.  As I read, the Bible verse that came to my mind was John’s words in Revelation 12:11.

They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; for they did not love their lives to the point of death.

This book is Jack’s testimony, the story of what God did in Jack’s life.  What did God do?  He has been loving Jack, through his lifetime.

The last paragraph summarizes the book;

For years, I refused to speak publicly about my son’s death.  I did not want to be like a preacher in a John Updike novel who “forges God’s name on every sentence he speaks.”  In those years, I was also learning that when the worst day of your life comes, it is only the beginning of bad.  Suddenly it seemed that everybody had a better story than mine.  Then my story got worse.  God took away about everything I used to fuel my self-esteem until there was nothing left except his love.  And for the first time, I felt his love apart from anything I could offer him.  And then I no longer needed a better story.

Jack had two massive losses in his life.  First his dad and then his son.

In the midst of that, he became a Christian, got saved.  Then he became a leader and a teacher.

He married a girl who loved God, despite having a horrible father.  They had three kids.  They lost one.

Jack’s story is a story of friendship.  Jack is a friend of God and also has had many friends.

Jack’s story is about sin, suffering, and redemption.  It is about faith.  It is about honesty and pain.

He asks the question of what happens to your story, when there is a loss, like the death of his son.  And the answer is that a new story begins.

In recovery circles, we meet people like ourselves, who are self-proclaimed ‘miracles’.  But many people don’t make it or continue to live in torment.

Jack tells of many instances when he was wrong or missed it.  There is a lot in here about the foolishness of pride, fig leaves, grief, anger, control, self-esteem, honesty, and unconditional love.

After the death of their son and ten years of addiction trauma, Jack got the idea to tell his story, write a memoir.  I am so glad he did.

When we tell our honest stories, we become authentic people of whom God has worked in our lives.  This is powerful, because, like the Amazing Grace song, we learn that we are all sinners and have been sinned against, and are being redeemed.  No shame, but failures all.

Jack’s book reminds me of C.S. Lewis, in his story, depicted in Shadowlands, when he gets really mad at God, because his wife is dying of cancer.  When I saw him, depicted in the film, being real with God, raw and unedited, it endeared me to him; and gave more power to everything he wrote.

Jack’s book also reminds me of Ann Kiemel.  She seemed to have had a charmed life, but then had some major suffering in the second half.  I liked her before and after her revelations.

Jack’s honesty also reminds me of Paul Young and his story.

A great lesson for leaders and teachers, from Jack’s book, is self-disclosure.  Tell your story, of God and you.

I was a member at Jack’s church for 4 years, when I was in my twenties.  And I had almost no idea  about his story.  I just knew that his dad might have committed suicide and that he might have been worried that he didn’t go to heaven.  But I heard an older minister encourage Jack that suicide is not the unforgivable sin and that his dad was in the Lord’s presence.  That endeared him to me, because my grandpa and later my dad, had mental illness.

Here are links to Jack talking with Eric Metaxas:

Some other reviews of Even in Our Darkness:

Kim Gentes
John Lathrop
Matthew R. Bardowell
Darryl Dash
Nathana Clay

Endings

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

-Matthew 9:17

My wife and I have been getting rid of old books.  We got a bunch of new books for Christmas.  I saw Lance Wallnau, yesterday, on Facebook live, talking about this very thing, and then quoting from Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings.

Yesterday, I got out a tool, that has been been broken for about 5 or 6 years.  It was finally time to fix it, because I need it for a project. 

For half the afternoon, I tried to fix it. 

I finally gave up, and made plans to go to the store, and buy a new and improved version of the same tool.

This was a necessary ending.

Lance said that a key for many of us, as we enter 2019, is to let go of the past. 

We have to end something in order to start or participate in something new.  It is like when a person goes out with a new person, but they are still thinking and talking about their previous relationship.

I have seen this with Christians and churches or churching.  They can not join something new, because they have not ended the old.  We are either bitter or nostalgic and both hinder our entering into the new.

With everything we do when we get married.  From the engagement, the period of time before the wedding, with all the prep and perhaps some counseling.  Then everything about the wedding.  And finally, the vows, made before friends, family, and God.

All that is not just a beginning, but an ending.  It culminates in the line, spoken at some weddings, “forsaking all others.”

As we move into 2019, it is very applicable now to consider endings.  New wine needs new wineskins.

Here are some quotes from Henry Cloud’s book:

“Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”

“In the language of Ecclesiastes, are there situations in business or in life where you are trying to birth things that should be dying? Trying to heal something that should be killed off? Laughing at something that you should be weeping about? Embracing something (or someone) you should shun? Searching for an answer for something when it is time to give up? Continuing to try to love something or someone when it is time to talk about what you hate?”

“Pruning is strategic. It is directional and forward-looking. It is intentional toward a vision, desires, and objectives that have been clearly defined and are measurable. If you have that, you know what a rose is, and pruning will help you get one of true beauty.”
“Failing well means ending something that is not working and choosing to do something else better.”

“There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable, or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult (or child, for that matter) has to be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person.”

“You can’t prune toward anything if you don’t know what you want. You have to figure out what you are trying to be or build and then define what the pruning standards are going to be. That definition and those standards will bring you to the pruning moments, wherein you either own the vision or you don’t.”

“first, accept life cycles and seasons; second, accept that life produces too much life, and third, accept that incurable illness and sometimes evil are part of life too. Taken together, these three principles will help you to make peace with endings, so that when their time has come, you will be able to do what you need to do.”

“Many people wish for a different universe than the one in which we live. They want one where every day is harvest time and there are no long laborious summer months to go through in order to get there. And when the harvest is ripe and they are thriving, they want no approaching winters where they see that the harvest is over and a cold death is looming.”
“Sometimes there is bleeding when you cut out a cancer.”

“Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending. —HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW”

“If we accept the premise that pruning is necessary but still notice that we have an emotional misalignment with that premise, we will struggle to realize our vision of the future and our potential. But if you can become aware of your resistances and internal conflicts now, then you can begin to face them and work them through.”

“So if you feel resistance about executing a certain ending, figure out what two or more desires are in conflict, admit to yourself that you can have only one, and then ask yourself this question: Which one am I willing to give up to have the other one?”

You have to break through the comfort level that you are in, where you are settling for living in hell just because you know the names of all the streets. Remember, you were not designed to cope but to thrive. But just like a rosebush, you can’t thrive without pruning, which means your necessary endings truly are urgent. Let’s look at how to get there.”

I found all these quotes, from Henry Cloud’s, Necessary Endings book, on Good Reads.  Over 1000 5 star reviews.  Many people said it was their best book of that year.

Leaving & Saying Goodbye

“And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.” -Acts 20:37-38 (ESV)

At Michael Jackson’s memorial service, Stevie Wonder tearfully sang Michael’s song, “Never Cared To Say Goodbye”.  Saying goodbye is hard and missed a lot of the time.  
When my dad died, we were an hour late, and missed saying goodbye.  When I left the church I loved and placed my key in the secretary’s desk and was walking out for the last time, I came across a lady who worked in one of my favorite ministries there, in the pastoral care area, and said goodbye, so that I could say it to someone.
The last time I was at another church I had been attending, I was lucky to have a moment alone with the senior pastor, a moment of peace in the midst of a crazy meeting that would be the last time I set foot there.  Years later, I took my wife to an event, at the church I had loved and left.  We were seated near and greeted by a very special man that I had known there.  He also was a medical professional who would show up later in my life, at the birth of my son.
Fast forward a few more years, and I saw another dear man from my old church, at a meeting, who had been and was very kind to me.  When I was engaged and first married, for about a year or two, my wife and I were often approached by people that had seen me at my old church, but we didn’t know each other’s names.
Before Christmas, someone I have worked with for decades resigned her position.  She stopped by my office and personally said goodbye.  Over the years, I can remember just a few people who did that, stopped by and said goodbye and I said goodbye to them.  
Most people don’t do that.  We don’t know how and it’s hard.  Sometimes we are leaving with so many feelings or under certain circumstances that it makes it too hard.
I am a car person.  I see cars as more than appliances.  I remember selling my first car and letting it go, in front of our house.  When my second car ‘died’, or was crippled by it’s starter breaking for the second time; I lost patience with it and left it, until I had it towed away.
I was sad when my third car started having problems after sinking tons of money into it, and decided I was tired of the clutch and the manual transmission.  I had very mixed feelings about letting it go.
My fourth car is the one I have had the longest, thirteen years.  Most of last year, I was planning on and looking for my fifth car, which I found right after Christmas.  I have been saying goodbye to car number four, for a while now.  I cleaned it out yesterday and started making arrangements to give it away.
I was blessed to have four grandparents in my life, all the way through into early adulthood.  Before my grandmother that I was closest to died, I was able to say goodbye, over a six month period, when she was in the hospital and a care facility, run by the same Catholic hospital network where I was born.
Most of my life, goodbyes have not been great, but sometimes they have.  And sometimes when it has been difficult, God has provided unconventional ways of seeing and being with people I have departed from, once again, and saying hello to them with grace; knowing that the lack of good goodbyes before is covered by grace and love.  No bitterness and complete forgiveness.
In some churches, they give going away parties to people who need to move out of the area, due to work or family.  But, if you decide to change churches or try something else; that’s a different matter.
I knew someone who agonized about leaving his church, to join another one on the other side of town.  He wrote a letter to the lead pastor, a guy he went to school with; and got no reply.  But, another staff pastor did acknowledge him.
There is a tradition of leaving with the blessing or being sent by those you leave.  This is beautiful when it happens, but often does not.  I remember when I decided to leave my homegroup and join a different one.  I called to say goodbye and they blessed my leaving.  When I could not attend that next group because of my school schedule, I was able to tell them and that was cool too.
It was painful when we stopped meeting with another couple for church, who did finally move too far away.  We saw them, with our boys, a couple of months ago and said hello over a number of hours, and loved one another as if we had never been apart, because they are family forever.
The one time in my life, that I did greeting ministry: I was one of the greeters at the front door of our church on a Sunday morning, when I normally did not attend in the morning, but the evening service, because most of the time I worked at my ‘day job’ on Sunday mornings.  That was the morning that it was announced that our pastor had suddenly stepped down, that past week.  My job was to be the face of the church that day, that greeted everyone, as they came to be shocked by very bad news.
I also remember that at a large funeral, a few years later; when a person who had not said goodbye to me very well, years earlier, must have spotted me and crossed a large room, and apologized, and we covered our goodbye with forgiveness and grace.
About two years ago, before my wife’s dad died, who I was praying my heart out that he would not die; the last time I saw him, I told him for the first and only time, that I loved him.  That was my goodbye that I could not bear to say and I am so glad that I said it.

How To Respond To Tragedies

At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”

-Luke 13:1-5

If you have some time, open your Bible to Luke 13.  I will be going back to it a lot.

I started writing this post, this past fall.  After the two hurricanes.  Before Las Vegas.

This post is about how to respond.  The Bible has a lot of wisdom on this.

Every week, we all encounter people who are going through losses and tragedies.  How do we respond and what do we say and how can we pray?

Some of us don’t know what to say or how to respond and some of us say things that are unhelpful.  We can sometimes say things that are hurtful.  We can say things that come from our Christian perspective that are insensitive and completely out of touch with the reality of the pain and suffering of people, while at the same time purporting to represent God.

The platitude, “everything happens for a reason”, is a false statement that is an example of this.  Another one, is to respond by saying that, “we are (just) in awe of God, at his sovereignty”.

This is not at all how Jesus responded.

Pause and reflect on the truth, that we never see Jesus saying things like this.

On the human plain, we think in terms of cause and effect.  In the stories, in Luke 13, when they asked Jesus about the people who died, he said that it was not punishment for their sinfulness.  And he said that we should all be living in repentance or we will perish.

Luke 13 applies to all the stories, when people have died in tragedies.

Right after Jesus clears things up by saying that God does not arbitrarily do things like this, people read his next words, misunderstanding that God indeed does do what Jesus says He does not.  Jesus was saying that we ought to live in repentance, so that we do not die in our sins.

The word “perish” in Luke 13:5 is the same word in John 3:16:

“Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”


In John 3, Jesus is talking to Nick about life and death.  He is saying, “choose life over death”.  He is saying that through him, you can live forever rather than dying.

Jesus is not saying that God will kill you or that you will die in a bad way, if you don’t live right.  Jesus specifically said that the victims who died were not executed by God.  He did not gossip about their standing with God and ultimate destiny.  Instead, Jesus turned the question back on the askers.

Do you get it?  If we ask Jesus why those people died in Las Vegas, he would say the same thing: “Do you think those people were more sinful that you all, because they suffered that way?  No!”

Same answer about people who died in the hurricanes, floods, and fires.  “No!”

Does God send disasters?  No.

Unfortunately some Christians have a different view, believing and teaching that God does send these.

I heard a retired megachurch pastor and author of thirty books espouse this view, the week after the hurricanes Harvey and Irene, ‘that God does send disasters’.

He cited the flood, but forgot the rainbow.  He also spoke from a dispensational viewpoint about the book of Revelation, acting like this (dispensationalism) is the only explanation, that all Christians believe.

No sir.

Another famous Christian leader wrote and published a prayer, about the devastation caused by the hurricane last summer, in Texas.

Much of what this prayer said is true, like God is mighty and merciful and we should ask for mercy.  But the flavor or tone of his whole prayer seemed to be about judgement and power and condemning people.

It was all this high belief in God with very little love for the people God so loves.  Is this what a good percentage of Christians believe?

The critique of this kind of Christianity is not just the beliefs, but the intellectual stoicism that does not know how to lament. 

There is also this narcissism, where we shed tears and love our ideas about God, rather than the real God and the people God loves.

Lack of love is the top problem with Christians.  If we don’t know God’s love, how can we love people with that love?

We argue about theology, soteriology, eschatology, and ecclesiology, but we don’t know the affection of the Father.  We have all these arguments.  You can hear them in Sunday sermons.

Many Christians see themselves as big on love.  But we have deceived ourselves in that we love our view of the truth, or doctrine, beliefs, and creeds instead of a person and the people God loves.  We judge people all the time and call it love, because we love our truth.

We are a people who have loved what we think and see the truth as being, rather than loving God and loving the people God loves.  And we self identify as lovers. But we have much hate, while at the same time identifying as lovers of the truth.

Many of us can not even talk with people we disagree with and we do not know how to listen to a contrary viewpoint without reacting.  Critical thinking is a lost art.  Round table discussions are very rare.

The indifference to the suffering of people and the platitudes spoken and prayed are our problem.

Caring for and about people is the whole thing.  But we have made teaching and then knowing the right theology the whole thing, or at least the main thing.

We are left with arguments without love.  Lots of anger, but it is selfish, narcissistic anger that is angry that others don’t get it, don’t agree.

We should rather be broken hearted, like Jesus was.

When we look at a tragedy and think, why did this happen…..   they must have deserved it for some reason…  We are completely off and out of the heart of God.

The shortest verse in the NT might be the most revealing verse about Jesus and about God’s heart:
Jesus wept.
He did not weep for himself, but he wept for others.

And at the end of Luke 13, that begins with the questions about the tragic deaths; Jesus says this statement that reveals his heart:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

That is love.  Relentless, sacrificial love.

For anyone who says the platitude, “God is in control of everything”, please think about how crazy and hurtful it is to say that.  Consider these statements:

If God is in control of everything:

  • Nothing is our decision.
  • Explain rape.
  • Why pursue advice?
  • Hasn’t He made a mess.!!??
  • You cannot stop divorce.
  • Knowledge has no reward.
  • Wisdom is unnecessary.
  • It’s unnecessary to pray.
Let’s go back to the beginning of Luke 13 and see how we can get it so wrong about disasters and human suffering and God.

At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”

We misunderstand Jesus when we read this and say that this teaches that God says everyone deserves to die: and even in a bad way, under terrible circumstances.  

At first glance, we could interpret Jesus words that way, if we have a certain view of God and God’s nature.

What if you discovered that your theology was based more in Greek Mythology than the Bible?  And what if you discovered that your soteriology was Hindu?  What if you discovered that you are wrong, in thinking that you are the center and the locomotion of your salvation?

If we don’t know God, we are going to misinterpret God.  We are going to think he is like us.  We will be like orphan children on school yard.

The view that God is in control of everything and everything happens for a reason, that leaves out freedom of choice, powers and principalities, Satan, angels and demons; is very problematic.  It is robotic, mechanical, and scripted.

What is twisted about this view and wrong, is that it assumes that God caused or ‘scripted’ Pilate to do the evil thing he did and that God caused the tower to fall.  Why?  Because (they believe) God is in control of everything.

That view also does not have the time or the compassion to explore the person of Judas Iscariot, because we believe that he was ‘scripted’ by God to play that role.  I’m not sure if they would also say it was God’s plan for Satan to fall and then for Adam and Eve to fall.  Was king Saul also set up by God for failure?  Was king David’s abuse of women God’s will too?

Of course not.

The list goes on and on.

Is it your view, that we are all living out a script, like robots of animated drawings?  Satan’s work, cancer, and the holocaust all are God’s plan, his script so to speak?

This view would say that disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes or bridge collapses are “the most merciful message” or “the most precious message”, signifying the need for the rest of us to get right with God.

?

??

Back to Luke:

Further down, in Luke 13, we have another story of human suffering, also not caused by God:

As he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for over eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free of your disability.” Then he laid his hands on her, and instantly she was restored and began to glorify God.


Quoting Greg Boyd, “This is what we find throughout the Gospels. They uniformly identify infirmities (sickness, disease, deformities, disabilities) as being directly or indirectly the result not of God’s punishing activity, but of Satan’s oppressive activity.”

Jesus says that Satan caused this woman’s suffering, not God.  This gives us a clue about Jesus worldview that we should also adopt.  Satan and his team are free agents, within boundaries, set by God.

The idea that God causes disasters that kill people was popular in the first century, to some extent.  The argument could be made from OT stories.  But Jesus came and clarified all that.  He did not preach a hyper grace message, and it certainly is orthodox to say that Jesus and the Apostles would say that sin brings death.

Jesus took on the judgement of God for the sins of the whole world.  Even if God ever punished people for their sins, through disasters or anything else; after the cross, that is finished.  Jesus work on the cross dealt with sin: all sin, past, present, and future.

It is very strange to say that God punishes people, specifically and especially, by killing them, for their sinfulness.

It is also very strange to look at devastation as say, “we all deserved that (punishment) disaster”.

How can you believe in a God who settled or paid the high price for sin, but still randomly punishes sinners for their sins?

Is not the message that God could punish us for our sins, but instead Jesus died on the cross?  We need to have faith, yes we do.  We can not get forgiveness and be cleansed unless we come to God, who first draws us.  That is the way God has lovingly provided.

Even if the Old Covenant framework was for God to teach a lesson through disasters, we are not in that framework any more.  We are in the era after the cross.

Jesus and his work is the center, and the interpretive key to everything.

_________________________________________________
footnotes and for further study and background:

Why the W35 bridge Collapsed, by Greg Boyd
Putting My Daughter To Bed  Two Hours After The Bridge Collapsed, by John Piper
Hurting With God- Learning To Lament, by Glenn Pemberton
Chaplain Mike, Against Sermonic Neo-Puritan Prayers

Notes on Suffering From Job, By Chambers & Peterson

Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will leave this life.
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.

-Job 1:20-22
This is a follow-up on why we can not and should not try to fix people.  (You Can’t Fix People)  There is a whole book on this in the Bible, called Job.  It is the story of a good guy who had bad things happen to him.

Here are notes and quotes, full of sage advice and Christ centered wisdom about how to approach suffering, from first Oswald Chambers, then Eugene Peterson.

These are some notes or quotes from Oswald Chambers book on Job called, Baffled To Fight Better.
  • The sympathy which is reverent with what it cannot understand is worth its weight in gold.
  • It is not what a man does that is of final importance, but what he is in what he does. The atmosphere produced by a man, much more than his activities, has the lasting influence.
  • (A) man may utter apparently blasphemous things against God and we say, “How appalling”; but if we look further we find that the man is in pain, he is maddened and hurt by something. The mood he is talking in is a passing one and out of his suffering will come a totally different relationship to things. Remember, that in the end God said that the friends had not spoken the truth about Him, while Job had. 
  • All we can know about God is that His character is what Jesus Christ has manifested; and all we know about our fellow men presents an enigma which precludes the possibility of the final judgment being with us.
  • The pseudo-evangelical line is that you must be on the watch all the time and lose no opportunity of speaking to people, and this attitude is apt to produce the superior person. It may be a noble enough point of view, but it produces the wrong kind of character. It does not produce a disciple of Jesus, but too often it produces the kind of person who smells of gunpowder and people are afraid of meeting him. According to Jesus Christ, what we have to do is to watch the source and He will look after the outflow: “He that believeth on me,…out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
  • There are things in our heavenly Father’s dealings with us which have no immediate explanation.
  • There are inexplicable providences which test us to the limit and prove that rationalism is a mere mental pose. 
  •  The Bible and our common sense agree that the basis of human life is tragic, not rational, and the whole problem for us is focused on this (in the) book of Job. 
  •  Job 13:15 is the utterance of a man who has lost his explicit hold on God, but not his implicit hold, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.” That is the last reach of the faith of a man. 
  •  Job’s creed is all gone; all he believed about God is disproved by his own experiences, and his friends when they come, say in effect, “You are a hypocrite, we can prove it from your own creed.”
    • But Job sticks to it, “I am not a hypocrite, I do not know what accounts for all that has happened, but I will hold on to it that God is just and I shall see Him vindicated in it all.”
  • God never makes His way clear to Job. Job struggles with problem after problem, and providence brings more problems all the time, and in the end Job says, “…now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5): all he had hung onto in the darkness was true, and that God was all he believed Him to be, loving and just, and honorable…
  • Will I trust the revelation given of God by Jesus Christ when everything in my personal experience flatly contradicts it?”
These are notes from Eugene Peterson’s book, The Message: Job: Led by Suffering to the Heart of God.
  • Job was doing everything right when suddenly everything went wrong.
  • He refuses to accept the role of defeated victim.
  • Job does not curse God.
  • Neither does Job explain suffering.
  • He does not instruct us how to live so that we can avoid suffering.
  • Suffering is a mystery, and Job comes to respect the mystery.
  • Perhaps the greatest mystery in suffering is how it can bring a person into the presence of God in a state of worship, full of wonder, love, and praise.
  • Even in his answer to his wife he speaks the language of uncharted irony, a dark and difficult kind of truth: “We take the good days from God- why not also take the bad days?”
  • Sufferers attract fixers the way road-kills attract vultures.
    • These people use the word of God frequently and loosely.  
    • They are full of spiritual diagnosis and prescription.
    • It all sounds so hopeful.
    • But then we begin to wonder, “Why is it that for all their apparent compassion we feel worse instead of better after they have said their piece?”
  • The book of Job is not only a witness to the dignity of suffering and God’s presence in our suffering but it is also our primary biblical protest against religion that is reduced to explanations or “answers”.
  • Many of the answers that Job’s so-called friends give him are technically true.
    • But it is the “technical” part that ruins them.  They are answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy.
  • In every generation there are men and women who pretend to be able to instruct us in a way of life that guarantees that we will be “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
  • He (Job) rejects the kind of advice and teaching that has God all figured out, that provides glib explanations for every circumstance.
  • Job’s honest defiance continues to be the best defense against the cliches of positive thinkers and the prattle of religious small talk.
  • Real faith cannot be reduced to spiritual bromides and merchandized in success stories.  It is refined in the fires and storms of pain.
  • We cannot have truth about God divorced from the mind and heart of God.
  • When we rush in to fix suffering (people), we need to keep in mind several things:
    • 1.  No matter how insightful we may be, we don’t really understand the full nature of our friends’ problems. 
    • 2.  Our friends might not want our advice.
    • 3.  The ironic fact of the matter is that more often than not, people do not suffer less when they are committed to following God, but more.
  • When these people go through suffering, their lives are often transformed, deepened, marked with beauty and holiness, in remarkable ways that could never have been anticipated before the suffering.
  • Instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering… we should begin entering the suffering.
    • Entering the mystery and looking around for God.
  • We need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them, and if they will let us- join them in protest and prayer.
  • Pity can be nearsighted and condescending.
  • Shared suffering can be dignifying and life-changing.

Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified;and those he justified, he also glorified.

-Romans 8:28-30
One of the dumbest sayings is, “Everything happens for a reason”.  Some people believe that they are comforted by this idea.  When disaster strikes or a loved one dies under unfortunate circumstances, they say this.
The ‘reason’ that I think is false and that makes the statement false is God’s will.  The belief out there is that God wills tragedy: accidents, including kids being run over or even murdered.  No.  Everything does not happen for a reason.
I just finished reading a book that was mostly a beautiful story about a tragic event of a young man.  He died in an unfortunate event, at age twenty.  Eventually, in the story, this statement was made, that everything happens for a reason and that it was ‘his time’.
I think that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is mistakenly justified through a reading of Romans 8 and maybe the seasons verses in Ecclesiastes, where the author says that there is ‘a time to die’.  There is a time or season when people die and there may be a time God determines when a person dies.
But, when someone dies early, there is another saying that goes, “She died before her time”.  This statement is in the same category of human suffering that is not God’s will.
The Holocaust and children being raped is not God’s will or God’s plan.  All bad things that happen, including untimely deaths are also not God’s will or God’s plan.  They are not something that he has a reason for letting happen.
Romans 8 teaches us that God works in the midst of human suffering.  This is a very different idea than believing God caused it.  This is very different than believing that since God allowed it, it must be his will.
It was not his will, but it happened, and he loves you.  God is all powerful.  But humans and forces of darkness have certain freedoms to do harm.
Accidents happen.  I met a woman a few years ago.  The love of her life died in a tree trimming accident.
Bad things happen, while God is all powerful and all good.
Many people die too soon.  It was not God’s will.

There is an error, an insidious belief that God predetermines our deaths.  This belief might ‘fit’ and feel good, when it is an older person, who is close to God, and they say goodbye to their earthly family and then hello to their heavenly family, in glory and joy.

We get in trouble when we apply this to almost everyone else, especially those who suddenly die, die young, or die under tragic or evil circumstances.

Some Christians that believe in predeterminism believe that it does not matter really how they live and the choices that they make, because their time of death is already set.

Some people die shortly after they retire from full-time work, because they lack purpose.  Every year, people die climbing mountains, which was completely their choice.

There is a difference between God knowing what will happen and God predetermining what happens.

It is lazy to believe that God predetermines everything.  It is a terrible deception.  Actually, God has set things up in the world, so that many things will not happen unless we do it.  We must pray and we must act, or else God’s will can not be done on earth.

That is how big God is on free will.  He freely gives, but then we must freely give for good things to work out.

Error is on both ends of the spectrum.  To say that life and everything that happens on earth is a script, written and directed by God, that we act in, as actors who do not have complete freedom, is false.  And to say that God either does not exist, or is detached and we do everything, including our religions and our own merited righteousness, is also false.

The truth is that we have freedom to choose.  The truth is that bad things do happen, that were not God’s plan or God’s idea.  The truth is that we do not know why people die or are allowed to suffer untimely deaths.

On top of all this is God who is all powerful and totally loving.  There is often no cause and effect.  Remember the story where the tower collapsed and a bunch of people died and they asked Jesus about it (Luke 13).  It was just an accident.  There was no reason.

When Leaders Fall, Be Civil

How the mighty have fallen!

-2 Samuel 1:19b, 25a, 27a
When an influential television evangelist fell, in the late 1980’s; some Christians celebrated.  The cheering was over that fact that God was cleansing his house.  
A better response is, “How the mighty have fallen!”  
David sang a song of lament and had the song distributed to all of Israel.  The song says, “How the mighty have fallen!”  This sentiment is the proper response when leaders, who had great influence, fall from grace, or are exposed in their hypocrisy, betrayal and sedition.
Remember that our brother or sister is never our enemy, even when they continually act like one and treat us as theirs.
The story of Saul’s death, that led to David leading Israel, in mourning and lament, rather than celebration; is recounted in 2 Samuel 1:9 to 2:7.  Saul was mortally wounded, but not yet dead.  An Amalekite man, someone living in Israel, but not an Israelite while still coming under the rules, regulations, faith and practices of Israel: this man killed Saul, at Saul’s behest.
The young Amalekite man killed Saul and then took his crown and royal armband.  He then journeyed to David’s camp and sought a meeting with David, to give these to David.  As soon as David received the bad news about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he and all his closest men went into grieving.
After a short time of mourning and fasting, David questioned the young man.  He found out that the man was someone who was living in Israel.  He was accountable to the laws of God, and should have known better.  David immediately had the young man executed for the murder of Saul.

Then he begged me, ‘Stand over me and kill me, for I’m mortally wounded, but my life still lingers.’ So I stood over him and killed him because I knew that after he had fallen he couldn’t survive. I took the crown that was on his head and the armband that was on his arm, and I’ve brought them here to my lord.”

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and all the men with him did the same. They mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening for those who died by the sword—for Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel.

David inquired of the young man who had brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I’m the son of a resident alien,” he said. “I’m an Amalekite.”

David questioned him, “How is it that you were not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” Then David summoned one of his servants and said, “Come here and kill him!” The servant struck him, and he died. For David had said to the Amalekite, “Your blood is on your own head because your own mouth testified against you by saying, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

-2 Samuel 1:9-16
Assisted suicide is not ok.  If an an authority gives an order that goes against God’s orders, we must obey God.  The right thing to do, for the Amalekite man, would have been to stand with Saul and defend him or drag him to shelter, if possible, so that he could die, if he was to die, in peace.
Everything the young Amalekite man did went against God’s laws.  The text makes note of the fact that he was both young and without excuse.  He lived in Israel and the prohibition against murder was well known, and he was young, which did not excuse him.  Perhaps the text is telling us, as the whole book of Proverbs does, that when you are younger, you need to be more careful to learn wisdom and leave folly and gain life experience and not think you know everything, when you do not.
Another notable feature of this story, is that David first mourned.  He mourned first, before trying to assign blame or make a judgement.  He only did the later after he did the former.
David, the warrior, knew how to cry.  That is a huge lesson for us.  Become a warrior, but grieve deeply, when appropriate.  Stoicism is not wisdom, Godly or Christlike.  
David neither reacted in anger nor went into stoic denial.  He mourned and fasted.
Then, after some processing, he interview the young man and had him immediately executed for murder.
David indicted the man from his own words.  You may not kill the one who is the Lord’s.
There was an extreme audacity in the man, in that he thought he was doing the right thing.  The right thing by God?  The right thing by David?  Saul?  No, no and no.
What he did was purely selfish.  It was mercenary.  We can surmise that he was looking out for himself.
He murdered and robbed a dying man, who had mental health issues and was loved by God and David.  The Amalekite was completely deluded to think that this was the right thing to do and that David would congratulate him.
We can become just like this guy and somehow deceive ourselves that sinfulness is ok in certain circumstances.  We kill people, often leaders, with our words.  And we rationalize that it is ok because that person is a heretic, or carnally sinful.
For some Christians, their favorite indoor sport is wishing for the death of leaders, whether Christian (even Catholic) or political.  If you are a self-identified Christian, look at what Jesus said about murder and how religious people commit murder with their words:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

-Matthew 5:20-4
Somehow, we fool or deceive ourselves into thinking we are on God’s side or God is surely on our side, when we bash, trash and kill someone with our words whom we deem to be under God’s judgement or we  rap on about how bad that person is.
When a corrupt leader falls from grace, is exposed, loses God’s protection and is ravaged by the enemy; that is not our time, our cue, to kill them and steal their jewelry and audaciously try to claim a reward.  No.  
David lived in the tension that we are all called to live in, of the prophetic future beckoning, while the present has not given way yet completely.  How to live into our prophetic destiny without ‘helping’ God and letting God develop you in that tension is what we are all called to.
David led the nation in mourning for Saul.  David knew he was called to be king, but the whole nation was not there yet.  They didn’t get that.  What they may have got and what they may have appreciated about David though, was his abilities as a worship leader, a poet, an artist and a songmaster.  
So, in that sphere of his giftedness where they did see him and appreciate him, he served them, the nation; by disseminating this song of sorrow and lament that also celebrated and said “good-bye” to Saul and is regime:

David sang the following lament for Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the Judahites be taught The Song of the Bow. It is written in the Book of Jashar:

The splendor of Israel lies slain on your heights.
How the mighty have fallen!
Do not tell it in Gath,
don’t announce it in the marketplaces of Ashkelon,
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
and the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate.
Mountains of Gilboa,
let no dew or rain be on you,
or fields of offerings,
for there the shield of the mighty was defiled—
the shield of Saul, no longer anointed with oil.
Jonathan’s bow never retreated,
Saul’s sword never returned unstained,
from the blood of the slain,
from the flesh of the mighty.
Saul and Jonathan,
loved and delightful,
they were not parted in life or in death.
They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet, with luxurious things,
who decked your garments with gold ornaments.
How the mighty have fallen in the thick of battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother.
You were such a friend to me.
Your love for me was more wondrous
than the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen
and the weapons of war have perished!

-2 Samuel 1:19-27
There you have the example of the proper response and a hymn to the fallen leaders.
The last part of this story, that I want to touch on, is in the next scenes.  David asks God, “Now what?”  And God tells him his next move.  And David is anointed king, not over all of Israel, but just over the house of Judah.  
Then we have the report of the men who bravely buried Saul.  We know where David is headed and who he is, but many people at the time were slow to realize this and might have thought that another son of Saul was the next king.  David had to both be obedient to God and be diplomatic with those who were not on-board yet.
The lessons here are that David was bold and filled with faith, but he waited on God to open the doors; and that he was a bridge to the future and not an island that demanded others join him in God’s obvious will.  In other words, David’s feet were firmly planted in the prophetic future of his destiny, while at the same time, his hand was reaching out to others, in kindness who did not get it yet.
The final words in this section are David’s words to men who are grieving and coming to grips with David’s rise to power.  We know God is behind David, that David was God’s choice; but they do not.  And, we can only imagine that if David sat down with them and told them, “Guys, you’ve got to see that I am the one God has chosen!”, that they may not have believed him.
So, he is as kind as he can be and he does diplomacy maybe.  He says these words to these men, as he calls them to grasp the reality of what needs to happen and who he is, saying, “be strong and valiant”.  Why does he say that?  Because more civil war is imminent and he is encouraging them to choose the right side.
Here is 2 Samuel 2:1-7:


Some time later, David inquired of the Lord: “Should I go to one of the towns of Judah?”

The Lord answered him, “Go.”

Then David asked, “Where should I go?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord replied.

 So David went there with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelite and Abigail, the widow of Nabal the Carmelite.  In addition, David brought the men who were with him, each one with his family, and they settled in the towns near Hebron. Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. They told David: “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul.”

 David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead and said to them, “The Lord bless you, because you have shown this kindness to Saul your lord when you buried him.  Now, may the Lord show kindness and faithfulness to you, and I will also show the same goodness to you because you have done this deed.  Therefore, be strong and valiant, for though Saul your lord is dead, the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”


A lesson here is that God provides the opportunity to do the right thing, but often, people choose otherwise.  This led to the personal destruction for the Amalekite man.  Choosing to be on the side that opposes what God is doing with a person, and David is that person in the lesson of this story, will lead to your own pain, suffering and even death.
And we can not blame God, because God makes provision for our weakness.  Every day, people chose a side that is against God and they will suffer consequences for it that were preventable.  God made provision for them not to be deceived, but they said “no thanks” and drove into the ditch.
There is a way to respond when a leader falls from grace or is exposed.  And there is an improper way to talk, speak and write; that comes from a heart that is not right with God.
There are steps to follow and ways to discern what God is doing.  The first step is to be obedient to the ways of Christ living in me.  Jesus was obedient and kind and was an active participant in waiting upon Father and seeing and doing with Father what Father was doing.
David is “the man after God’s own heart”, said God (1 Sam. 13:14).  His number one thing was passion for God, personally.  Being king was secondary and God’s idea for him. 
David, like many of us, was a reluctant leader, as far as we know.  And he was a passionate God-seeker, musical artist at the genius level and a skilled warrior; who God chose to be king.  
The guy who had been on the hard road for quite a while, spoke out of his experience in suffering and becoming more courageous, when he said to potential enemies in the looming civil war, “be valiant”.  In other words, “You know what the right thing is to do, and it might seem harder and far more dangerous.  Search your hearts, be brave and do the right thing.”  That is what I think David was saying to people who were shell-shocked by Saul’s epic failure and what is next.

My Grace Is Sufficient For You

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.

-2 Cor. 12:9
I was asking for the pain to go away.  I wanted the agony I was feeling to be removed.  Instead, this verse was ministered to me.
What this verse said to me was the opposite answer to my request to have the pain go away.  God was saying that he had grace for me, in the midst of the pain I was experiencing.  He also says in this verse that power, his power in my life, is perfected in my weakness.
In my pain, God did not go along with my line of thinking which was ‘make the pain go away’ (please).  Instead, God introduced a whole different thought to my situation.  His answer to my request for pain relief was, “My grace is more than enough and my power flows in you when you are weak”.
Since this word was not what I had in mind or expected, I had to begin to assimilate it.  I felt a bit baffled and reasoned that the Lord was saying that he wanted to give me grace in my pain.  My next thought was, “Okay”, and then, “I wonder how this works”.

The place where this revelation happened for me was at my school, where three years previous, I had picked up their brochure and on it was this curious quote, by Augustine, that read:

In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.

Sure enough, what they advertised; that I really did not get at first, ended up being my experience.  I was caught by surprise, like a deer in the headlights and a bit blinded to my preconceived ideas of how God should work.  That is how I was dazzled.

I was also baffled.  “My grace is sufficient”, what does that mean?
Grace is unmerited favor or God’s empowering presence.  Grace is good, so there must be something good it this.
Sufficient is not a word that I use.  It means ‘enough’, ‘all you need’, ‘adequate’, ‘plenty’ or ‘more than enough’.  The implication is that God is saying, “Rather than escaping this, my grace is more than enough and all that you need”.
God says, “My grace is always more than enough, all that you need”.
I know that I am always in need of grace and am in trouble if I do not rely upon grace.  But today, I am in a third acute time in life when I particularly need this verse ministered to me.  This verse is the answer to my prayer to God today, that says, “This is impossible!”

Today it seems impossible to have or find a church or a group of people who are also envisioned with the desire for church that I have.  I did not say it is impossible, but that it seems or feels impossible.

This is more like a horse that won’t drink the water.  For me, this is also like how when I first went back to college, to begin pursuing graduate studies in counseling, I was about twenty-six years old and I was beginning to long for and dream about my future wife.  “Could she be walking here on this campus right now?”, I thought.  And the answer was actually, yes she was.  But we were not to meet for about fourteen years.

The point of that story is that sometimes the answer or the fulfillment of your dream is right there, close by.  But you or they are not ready.  And God, walking with both of you, is getting you ready for your future.

The lesson is that we are all in the process of getting ready, being developed, for our future roles, assignments and affiliation communities.  All people in churches are not people who have ‘always known each other’, buy God brings different people together.  Even though the former is active today, God is also doing the latter.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”

The first time that I heard this verse in my life, and it was not a direct quote, but it was definitely the lesson that God was teaching me, was earlier in my young adult life, when I was in trouble, stuck, trapped and exposed.  I audaciously asked God to rescue me and I even tried to make a deal, saying I would be good if he would rescue me.  And the answer was, “No, but you will serve me”.

The exact quote was something like, “I am not going to rescue you and you are going to serve me.”  The voice of God that I heard was the Lord, my Lord, who was speaking to me sternly.  I had been through a journey in my Christian life where I had made Jesus my savior, but not my Lord.  That journey shifted that night, and he began to bring me into the revelation that Jesus is Lord and King.

That night was like lightning came into my darkness, but then I spent the next year assimilating the change in my life, leaving my home, going for long walks and just being with God.

The second time that I learned the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient, was when I was witnessing my parents going through divorce.  Everything was going good in my life except for this painful thing.  I learned that the grace to walk through the pain, is transmitted by Jesus.  
Today, the way forward again seems impossible.  People say, “That’s impossible!”, but Jesus says, “There are some things people can not do, but God can do anything.”  
My thing that seems impossible, is my vision for the church.  
My vision for church gatherings can be distilled down to: A Jesus Christ centered family reunion where everyone plays a part or has a voice. 
And sometimes it seems like pretty much everyone in my life, laughs and says, “Ain’t gonna happen”, or “That does not exist”.  I also hear, “That’s not church”, and “We’ve never done it that way before”.
To take Jesus style and substance of church life and bring it into our culture is a challenge and passion of mine that I dream about and think about and talk about.  And I believe that a lot of people who have stopped attending church services, for a variety of reasons are also looking for this.
But many of these people are hurt, disillusioned, burned out and feel betrayed and disoriented.  And these ‘negatives’ become their language and they begin living from negativity in regards to Christianity.  They turn off their old friends of family who still attend church services and do not share their fed-up experience.
And when these exiles meet up with other exiles, they are vulnerable to gathering around negativity rather than the positive message and person of Jesus Christ.  A bunch of people who have felt rejected and run off, but have not processed this through Jesus’ grace are like porcupines that you don’t want to hug or get behind.

Ouch, I just got barbed again.

If the conversation is just about the negative, then either people will be turned off with you and not want to talk, or you will attract other negative people and end up having a gripe festival as your gathering.  And it is human nature to not see your own stuff, so you will eventually not want to be around such negative people, not realizing you are one of them.
How can we gather with the de-churched, un-churched and done with (the old way of) church people?  The answer I believe is to make Jesus Christ the center of our gathering.  Through recognition and cultivation we will gather around him, and not our hurts and ‘tales of woe and intrigue’.
We don’t deny our pain or erase our history.  But we put Jesus first, who says that all things are possible and to stop looking at how we can not do it and to look to God who can do all things.
Even if it looks impossible and if people say it can’t be done or that will never work, I believe that we can find out, figure out, and have faith to come into an experience of church life that is in Jesus style, that is patterned out of his life and what he taught and how he functioned.  Even though the church carries his name, I believe that his essence and form, heart and life has become lost, like a lost art.
But it can be found, because he is alive and he is still building his church.  He lets us build his church our way and he inhabits it to a degree.  But that does not mean he built it or he endorses it; but that he is gracious and loves people who love him, even when they are more religious and less authentic than what is his plan.
Jesus was continually correcting his first disciples, while loving and caring for them.  And our being corrected or disciplined is part of being loved and belonging.  And another point is that God has a very wide latitude with his people and with his servants who are visible.  We criticize where God sees people who he loves who love him.
Doing church in a new way:

  • Centered on Jesus Christ through recognition and cultivation. 
  • That is like a family reunion. 
  • Where everyone participates or plays a role.

Seems impossible; but by God’s grace is possible, if we will be weak and let his power flow.  The Passion Translation puts it this way: “My power finds its full expression through your weakness”, and the CEV says, “My power is strongest when you are weak”.

I think what this is saying is that instead of seeking to be stronger, in our own strength; that we need to embrace our weakness.  You think this is impossible?  Let yourself be weak, so that God’s strength can bloom out.
For myself, what I need to do is move forward and live, engaging life and the people in my life and even new people outside the present borders or boundary lines of my life, and share my self with them, in weakness.

Community comes from communion which means sharing.  The ‘one anothers’ draw a picture of church life centered around Jesus personhood.  Much of what we call ‘church’ is not the communion of the saints, described in the NT.

There is a way and I believe it is the God prescribed way, to not give up on your dreams or who you are and what you want to be all about and to embrace weakness.  That means gentleness, kindness, humility and love.  This is Jesus style.
Imagine if the thorn that Paul calls ‘the messenger of Satan’, for you or me, are a person who harasses you in some way that is so bad that they are diabolical and psychopathic.  It would be natural to ask God for help, to deliver you from or remove that person out of your life.  But God says ‘no’, and that his grace (for that) is all you need and his power finds its full expression in your weakness.
In other words, the challenge, whatever it or who it is, will not be removed.  Instead, the direction for you is to rely on God’s grace and embrace your weakness.  That is God’s direction to me, as best I understand it.
There have been two ways that I have applied or practiced this in recent times.  One, is to be silent before God for times, holding out my impossible situation; doing the opposite of complaining to people or to God in prayer, and letting grace work.  The second is to engage the impossible situation, person or idea in weakness and let grace work.  
I learned the former a few years ago.  And it really works.  I am now going to learn that latter.
In the past, I would argue, debate, harangue or try to cajole.  But today I am learning to be a weak one, relying on his grace to fill out, fill in and create life where things seem impossible.

This song is a prayer:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong

Hopeful

For many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging. Finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing.

He believed, hoping against hope, so that he became the father of many nations according to what had been spoken: So will your descendants be.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance,  endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  
This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.

When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.
Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
-Acts 27:20, Romans 4:18, 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 13:11-13
I was thinking about hope.  We have hope.  Hope in God and hope in Christ.  And the Spirit of God is a hopeful person.
In Paul’s sea adventure story, he recalls a point where, ‘all hope was lost’.  Hope was disappearing.  Chances of surviving were running out.  But the end of the story was that everybody survived.
Another story about hope is told in Romans, about Abraham.  He kept waiting for his promise to manifest.  He hoped for it, even when hope was running out.
In the next chapter of Romans, we learn that we become hopeful people through enduring suffering.  The Christian life is about becoming like Christ, as we suffer, learn to love and live from God’s provision.
In 1 Corinthians, there is this idea that hope, along with faith and love, will go on; after the second coming.  Out of everything in the Christian life that we get to participate in on earth now, we get to continue experiencing faith, hope, and love.  There will not need to be any more prophecies, because we will be living in fulfillment.
Hope is a continuous, ongoing experience in our lives.  We hope and hope sometimes seems like it is running out and hopes are often fulfilled.  Hope that goes on a long time, without being fulfilled, can give us serious heartache.  
We need to be on-guard to not get bitter.  Disappointment always is the time of ‘His appointment’.  We must learn to lament our disappointments and grieve or losses.
Hopes die and losses happen.  But God always has new hope for us.  God has a ‘plan b’ when things do not work out.
New hope is renewed hope in God.  God is the God of death and resurrection.  Don’t be afraid of failure or a hopeless situation, because God resurrects dead things and brings new life where there has been death.
And the Spirit of God is the wisest and most optimistic person in your life, as well as Jesus number one supporter.
Hopeless means God has something for you, a gift or a compensation that is hidden in your trial.  Hopeless means that God has a ‘plan b’ or a resurrection of dead things.  Hopeless means the gift of having special fellowship with Jesus that you might have missed out on, if you had unlimited success.
If you are hopeless, God has something in store for you.  Let hope be refurbished in your heart and out into your life through the grace of God.  Be hopeful again

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