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.

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

Auld Lang Syne

Source/Artist unknown

Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

And you don’t put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.

-Isaiah 43:18-19, Matthew 6:34 and Luke 5:38-9 (The Message)
We are three and a half weeks into the new year.  The big change happened in November and was made official this past weekend.  America said goodbye to one president and said welcome to the new president.
Many more changes are in the air and are coming, as they always are.  God is doing something in the earth.  Trump’s ascendency, like it or not, is emblematic of what God is doing.
Jesus has been building his church.  God is ready to pour out new wine.  And new wine always requires new wineskins.
The wineskin is the structure that holds the wine.  The new wine is the brand-new thing that God is doing.  The old structure will not be able to hold, manage or give leadership to the new thing that God is doing.
After taking in the inauguration weekend, I was musing about that song, “Auld Lang Syne”.  President Trump’s swearing in and his address where the final events of this election season.  But just as important, were the goodbyes and farewells to president Obama.
There has been grace to end a season and begin a new season.  Endings and beginnings are not always this way.  For example, the transition from Saul to David was pretty rocky.

I love this quote:

“The hardest changes are from God’s order to God’s new order.”
Rich Marshall

“Auld Lang Syne”, is a song that is traditionally sang at midnight on new year’s eve, bidding farewell to the old year.  It is also sung as a farewell or ending, to other occasions.  These words are in Scots, and could be loosely translated into English as, “For (the sake of) old times”.
This brings me to the scripture from Isaiah 43.  These verses basically say that if you dwell on the past, you will miss what is presently about to happen.

“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.”

Imagine a person who is still talking and thinking about their ex, when they are in a new relationship and you get the picture.

When we have our eyes on what is behind, we do not see what is beside us or ahead of us.  We need to learn to live in the present with God, not dwelling on the past, nor fear-filled or worried about the future.

I love how The Passion Translation puts Matthew 6:33-34:

     “So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him.  Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.  Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

God Cares, Watches and Provides

Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.

-Matthew 10:29

My pet cat died the other night.  I found his body, where he laid, on my neighbor’s backyard lawn.  The fact that I found him and that he passed away safely on a soft patch of grass, was comforting.

I was reminded of these verses that say to us that God cares, watches and provides, with timely preparation for future eventualities.  God is our provision.  God envisions and provides.

I am strangely encouraged, to a smaller extent than I was just a month ago, when my step-father passed away.  The encouragement or comfort comes from knowing that God cares and sees and is compassionate.  God is not indifferent, but is a caring Father.

Jesus tells us that our Father sees when each small animal dies, so how much more do you think he sees us and cares about us?  And the context of Jesus words here are being killed from persecution as the result of betrayal by one’s own family.  In these hardest of circumstances, Jesus says to not be afraid, because your Father is watching and has made provision for whatever befalls you.

There is a song, inspired by this verse, called, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow”, written by Civilla Martin.  Civilla and her husband met a couple, who were both crippled, named Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle, who had remarkable joy and contentment, despite their physical challenges.  The Doolittle’s were light bearers of inspiration, comfort and hopefulness to everyone they came into contact with.  Civilla’s husband asked Mr. Doolittle what their secret was, and Mr. Doolittle remarked, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches over me!”  That statement gripped Civilla Martin’s imagination and she wrote the song.

His Eye In On The Sparrow
By Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.


His Eye Is On the Sparrow, Wikipedia

Death and Dying Reminds Me to Live in Time

This is the length of Abraham’s life: 175 years. He took his last breath and died at a ripe old age, old and contented, and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite. This was the field that Abraham bought from the Hittites. Abraham was buried there with his wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who lived near Beer-lahai-roi.

-Genesis 25:7-11

My step-dad, Jack died yesterday.  I am thinking about death and dying.  These are some thoughts of mine, in no particular order.

Death is part of life.  99.9% of people die, so it is not a surprise or completely unexpected.  It is sometimes a complete shock because it is too soon.

But, death always seems too soon, because we don’t want to lose our loved one.

Death can come at any time during life.  Death is not logical.  Death makes no sense to the living.

When death comes, we survey the life; seeing birth, life and death.  The one who died was born and had a life.  When death comes, we look at the life that they had.

When death comes, the person leaves behind a legacy.  These are their children or the deposit that they left in others.

There are two sayings: “You can’t take it with you”, and, “Store up for yourself treasure in heaven”.  What we do with the resources we have and our time and energy, can result in permanent rewards in heaven.

The things we feel and the things we do when someone we love is dying or has died, are because we love them.  I have observed that everyone grieves differently.

Believers have always been able to face death and dying because of hope.  Our God is the living God.  We have always believed that when our bodies give out, that our souls or spirits are still alive and in God’s care.

We do say goodbye, but we also say, I hope to see you again.  There will be a family reunion.

If we lose a loved one, for whom we are uncertain about their faith; we have hope and peace that God will take care of them.  On the one hand, we do need to warn people to put their faith in God, while they are alive.  But if someone dies without faith, we can trust God with them.

The same trust that we have towards God with our loved one who has experienced salvation, we also have toward God for our loved one who did not express a salvation in this life.  We do have intense sorrow, but with hope and trust in God, in deep humility and awe.

Death reminds us of life.  When I see death, I decide and go forth in how I want to live.

Death reminds me that time is limited.  I do not want to waste time.

Whatever I do, it is not to pass the time, but to redeem the time.  Whether I read, watch something, eat food, go somewhere, do something, or be with someone: I want it to be in-time, not passing-time.

I want to spend time, spend my time wisely, as a limited, highly valuable asset.  I want to multiply my time by redeeming my time.  I do not want to wait for time, but do things at this time, now.

I believe in waiting, but the question each day is, “what can I do now?”  I believe the answer has to do with love: love God, love myself, and love my neighbor.

I don’t have time for time wasters, so I don’t want anything that is a waste of time, because time is very valuable to me.

In the world, there are people who “do all they can and can all they can get”, and then there are people, “who are waiting to die”.  These are both extremes that I do not want to be.

I want to go deeper, deeper here, now, in everything that I can go deeper with; starting with God.  This is where I think redeeming the time starts.

Jesus is my example of this.  Engaged Christians, might think this is true, “be like Jesus”, as you live your life.  But do we only focus on Jesus miraculous birth and then his last three or so years?

What if the pattern that we really want to follow is Jesus whole life, of which over 90% was the part we don’t know much about?  We learn about ministry and discipleship from Jesus ministry years, which were three or so years.

I mentioned redeeming the time, and making the most of our time.  Now look at Jesus, who only left home and went out to preach, for his last three or so years.  His time before that was not wasted or unproductive.

There is that saying, “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans”.  Death teaches us to live life in time as it comes with those you are living with.

Having goals is great.  But I must live towards my goal or my dream, in time.  Today, at this time, God is preparing me for the future.

There is another saying, “Begin with the end in mind”.  If I want that or to be that, then today I have to learn or be trained in this.

Another thought about life and death, is that most all achievement comes through risk taking.

To live is to risk or exercise faith.  We must exercise faith in a risk taking fashion, just to stay afloat in life; and we must take bigger risks, to live an abundant, fulfilling life.

And when we take risks, we might fail.  Some failure is guaranteed.  But God loves ‘riskers’ and failures.  Believe me when I say that God would say to most of us, “I wish you failed more”.

What God means by that is that he loves it when we take a risk, in faith.  He loves that I risked and failed at that, that, and that.  God does not love winners, but loves failures.

When we take a risk, in time, in our living; we will often offend people.  We don’t mean to, but people will take offense at us for risking or exercising faith.  And it is ok and normal.

People have been calling others crazy for trying something new or different, throughout time.

When you try something new, taking a risk in faith, and you might fail, and God loves ‘riskers’: when you step out like that, you may be opposed, but not only by people who say you are crazy, but by people who will actually try to stop you, like you are doing something wrong.

This is normal, and it happened to Jesus.  His family said he was crazy and he was opposed all over.  Be encouraged that it happened to him.

Death reminds me of living in time.  The goal is not to do more, but to live deeper.  Rest and recreation are a big part of the fulfilling life, that is productive and rewarding in love.

I still think that life is about how we love, being loved and loving others.  Some of us say “I love you” a lot, which is fine and good.  But there are people who’s life story is doing loving things for people, in sacrificial love.  That is the eternally rewarding kind of living that I aspire to, that I saw displayed in my step-dad’s life.

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