At Home with Suffering

At Home with suffering-lonely,struggles,overwhelming,tears,burden,losing hope,carrying cross

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…” Philippians 1:29

Two weeks ago was devastating for my friend. She had lost her wallet and all her credit cards. The weight of the world was on her shoulders as she dealt with the police and made the calls to cancel her life and identity.

With her feet kicked out from under her, the rest of the world took on the form of a growing burden that overwhelmed her.

Fortunately, she had taught her son about Jesus and the truth he gives us. That son confronted her, told her to smarten up and deal with her attitude of getting stuck in an attitude that refused to change and acknowledge God’s control in all she had been through.

My friend had been born in a Christian home and gone to Christian schools in Pakistan. She had been taught the Bible from her earliest days. She was thoroughly marinated in Christianity but sitting across from me she declares “it was not enough.” She knew that life wasn’t meant to be a bed of roses and things have been hard. She knew it didn’t take faith to love God and follow him if the road was smooth. Now she declared again to me. “Every person needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and they need to keep walking in that commitment. It’s not enough to say a prayer or live on what you’re taught.”

My friend had always been in control of things. She was confident in her work with children. She was used to being independent. She was taught to be sure as a leader so children could look to her for their strength.

Now she felt helpless.

Previously, she had looked down on others who acted helpless. She didn’t understand the attitude. Now, in her own moment of emotional paralysis over a lost wallet, she began to empathize. She changed from within.

Every morning my friend takes out the Daily Bread and reads. Every morning it says exactly what she needs for that day. On this day it says the glory of life is to love – not so you are loved, to give – not so you get, to save – not so you are saved. This reading and all the ones before this rekindle hope to face another day in personal weakness and godly strength.

My friend says that “faith and life, if they’re smooth, are not functional and they’re not real.” She says “the closer I want to get to God the greater the challenges – the more challenges now the more blessed I feel.”

She know God is in control. She provides an insight when she says “God uses those close to us to probe the areas of our weakness. Because they are close we can’t walk away from them. God loves us and he wants the best for us.”

Her son hit her hard with this statement. “Mom, Jesus gave you a cross to carry. If you’re going to carry it then do it happily.”

What hits you hardest about my friend’s story? Can you relate at all? How do you live your life like Jesus is living in you? Do you think others who see you living are convinced that you serve a risen Savior who is in the world today?

Does Prayer Change Anything?

One of the most frequent requests I get as a pastor is for prayer. Regardless of whether the issue is sickness, finances, relationships, housing, spiritual confusion or lack of wisdom the natural desire for many of us is to ask for prayer. But does it really change anything? Is it supposed to change something?

Significant parts of our North American culture seem to have regained some curiosity around issues of connecting with some form of spirituality. Mindful meditation seems to be the buzz word for the current trend. Eastern forms of mysticism, First Nations’ spirituality, and new age philosophy have infiltrated our culture and even superseded disciplines of a crumbling institutional church.

Within the growing and emerging churches there is a reflection back on ancient practices of contemplation, centering prayer, listening prayer and divine readings designed to promote communion with God. Francis Chan focuses us toward the intimacy of relationship with our Father God through prayer.

Throughout the centuries Christian thinkers have recognized that prayer involves heart, mind, soul and even body. Prayer intertwines intellect and emotion with will and experience. It is a conversation of love between two persons committed to each other.

The apostle Peter (I Peter 1:8) says “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Perhaps this is the first thing that is changed – us. Prayer reorients my heart toward God and what his desires are and it engages my spirit in wrestling for truth in a world that works hard to distract, discourage, and raise doubts in me.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 18), says “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

I watched, with pride, as a group of young professionals gathered in the balcony prior to our Sunday service to pray. They were praying for our technology problem when everything else they’d tried hadn’t worked. Moments later, and seconds before our worship team began its first song, a button was pushed and everything worked. God’s grace wasn’t lost on any of us who saw that moment.

Clearly, prayer changed something. What has it changed for you?

Have you reached that age yet?

There’s something about us that likes to think we’re at an age different than we are. If we’re younger we like to feel and act older. If we’re older we like to think or act younger. Maybe that’s only me and the people around me.

It takes a certain level of maturity to be who you are and to be settled with that. Discipleship and mentoring grow out of that stable foundation. Once you are settled with who you are you can start investing in others.

In our cross-cultural training we were asked the question: “Do you want to be the hero or the hero-maker?” In our team building times we say do you want to be the discipler or the one who creates disciple-makers who make disciple-makers?

The generation after you needs someone who will reach back and encourage them upward on this climb through life. That’s true whether you’re in your twenties or in your eighties. God has given you experiences and wisdom that was meant to be shared and God has created someone who needs to learn what you know.

Have you ever had a mentor – someone who took an interest in who you are and what you’re doing? Someone who listened just a little more and stayed in your corner just a little longer? We all need someone like that and we all need to be someone like that for others.

Regi Campbell, in his book Mentor Like Jesus (pp. 39-40) says “Great mentors know who they are. They get great joy in seeing their wisdom, knowledge, and experience live on to help others… When a person knows who he is, he’s comfortable in any situation. He doesn’t spend energy wondering what the other person is thinking. He can spend all his energy listening and trying to understand.”

Maybe there’s someone in your own family circle who needs a mentor – or maybe not. Maybe God has someone in our own church family ready to glean from your supportive encouragement. I recently watched a senior supporting a single professional over a period of months and the rally of a discouraged heart was obvious to anyone who knew her. Both of the women benefitted from the engagement.

Make this a prayer as you prepare for the next months ahead. Lord, if there’s someone I can encourage and share my life with (in a mentoring way) please set up a divine appointment and a significant conversation so I don’t miss it. Keep me alert and ready to share your heart wherever I am.

Bless you as you pour yourself into the next generations.

Our Big Picture Thinking

Apologist Ravi Zacharias lays it out clearly in his book The Grand Weaver (p. 42) “What the brain is to the body, the mind is to the soul.”

Zacharias notes that what we call faith is “a thing of the mind. If you do not believe that God is in control and has formed you for a purpose, then you will flounder on the high seas of purposelessness, drowning in the currents and drifting further into nothingness.”

He further cites Essayist F. W. Boreham who declares that “faith is actually the mainspring of the universe, the sheet anchor of civilization. It lies at the heart of all negotiations and worldwide relations. All sound finance builds on it. When people clutch their money, thinking they have concrete reality, they are, in fact, clutching to faith. Money, in that sense, has no value without trust. It is all worthless paper without the promises and pledges of other people and systems. The entire financial structure depends on credit, trust, confidence, belief, and faith.”

Losing faith means the potential loss of hope and love. God’s Word has been given to us as a gift to build faith, hope and love in a world which has lost direction and control. It is food for our minds so that our soul gets clear truth in a world which hasn’t quite grasped it.

How is your mind grasping this thought? Does this make sense to you? Do you see the centrality of how we function from a core of faith?

The problem for many of us is that our faith is misplaced. We place our faith in the money Zacharias speaks of, or we place our faith in other people, an accomplishment, a reputation, a dream, or even in our own might, wisdom and intuitiveness. These will all fail us ultimately, but they will give us the illusion of exercising our mind for some kind of god-designed purpose.

How can you live so that you are operating by faith in Jesus and not in some other object? How will you continue to live that way in what you’re facing? May God grant you the discernment you need in this journey.

Working It All Out

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? If you work, or have worked in the past, why spend your
energy and time putting out effort to accomplish anything? Who is going to remember what you did day
after day, week after week, year after year?
What a way to get depressed at the start of a year – Wondering if there is any purpose to what I do. All
of us want to accomplish something. Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we aren’t. But what
does our effort matter? Won’t it all eventually fade away as others take our place, as the new way of
doing things replaces the old way, as another generation focusing on the possibilities of the future set
aside the past like yesterday’s trash?
Oh, reality. How harsh and how hopeful.
Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York, writes something significant in his book
Every Good Endeavor (p. 29): He says, “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any
difference, and all good endeavors, even the best will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of
the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, even the simplest ones,
pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. That is what the Christian faith promises. “In
the Lord, your labor is not in vain,” writes Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse
58.”
Keller says that as believers who want our work to matter we need to answer three questions: “Why do
you want to work? (That is, why do we need to work in order to lead a fulfilled life?) Why is it so hard to
work? (That is, why is it so often fruitless, pointless, and difficult?) How can we overcome the difficulties
and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?”
Some of you will be looking to answer these questions from your past experience, some from your
current challenges and some from what is still ahead. You were designed to accomplish something
significant for God’s glory. If your heart is still beating the work isn’t done yet. Have you figured it out
and are you doing it. Take some time to share this with another pilgrim on the road with you.

Is there room for doubt in our faith?

Have you tried to share your faith lately with an unbeliever? What was that like? Did you know how to respond to the questions you were being asked, the doubts that were being expressed, the pushback you were being given?

Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple, had this to say in I Peter 3:15, 16. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We don’t expect ourselves to embrace things we don’t believe are true and we surely don’t expect others to embrace things they don’t believe are true. Few are won by being argued into the kingdom. Most are intrigued by seeing the real expression and trust in Jesus when our life is anything but good. “How do you have hope now?” they want to know.

The time for effective witness doesn’t start when we’re confronted by an unbeliever with their haunting questions. They time for witness comes when we speak to our own heart first about what we really believe about Jesus, His word, His church, His world. If you’ve grown up in a ‘Christian’ environment, surrounded only by supportive relationships, it can be a shock to be mocked by skeptics.

The age of entitlement and privilege is over for most followers of Jesus in Canada. It is time to look seriously at what Scripture is teaching us on how to live in a world whose values are not aligned with God’s. This is especially true for students and young professionals.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (pp. 16-17), says

“There should come a period in our lives, as we mature in our faith, when we need to confront our inherited belief system and ask ourselves whether it has really become ours. The developmental psychologist James W. Fowler sees a personal re-examination of beliefs as necessary for full maturity. Through most of our adolescent years we are very peer-oriented in all of our life’s decisions. We respond to groups and easily pick up the group’s beliefs as our own. This is why evangelism on the high school levels needs to be socially oriented. Many times during the period we recommit ourselves to our family’s values. However, in late adolescence or early young adulthood, we ought to escape from the peer-oriented mode; we need to decide whether we can really claim ownership in everything we have taken on as beliefs. In most cases, this process involves raising questions about the truth of these beliefs.

“This re-examination does not mean tearing down everything so that it can be rebuilt. It may simply be a matter of making sure all of the nails are holding and applying a little more glue here and there. Unless a person is willing to go through such a process, his or her faith may always be suffering from a lack of conviction.”

So, how has this worked out in your life and faith? How strong are your convictions and where did they come from? Do you have confidence in sharing what you believe with someone still filled with doubt? Are you first living out your faith so that someone would even ask you about your faith?

Does your life need a trellis?

If you’ve ever seen grapes or roses or vines growing you might have noticed the importance of a trellis. A trellis is the support structure which enables the vine to grow up enough to bear fruit. This structure keeps it from slumping on the ground where its fruit will be ruined.

Ken Shigematsu, in his book ‘God in My Everything’, states that having a spiritual trellis for our lives “supports our friendship with Christ so that we bear the fruit of his character and are able to offer his nourishing life to others…. It serves as a pattern for life that enables us to experience the presence of Jesus in each moment of our lives, empowering us to become people who embody his love to others.”

Recognizing the importance of a spiritual trellis focuses our attention on the strength of the culture in our church family to support the growth of its members. A church filled with grace, hope, love, care and encouragement also needs to be a place of accountability, truth, learning, service and outreach.

Shigematus continues, “People grow – they become who they are – not because God zapped them while they walked across a field but because they make a conscious effort to respond to the grace of God and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, cultivate the gift they have received. Those who flourish in their lives with God have a Spirit-initiated rule of life, a rhythm of practices that enables them to welcome and respond to Jesus.”

What do you think? Is this right? How does it show up in your own walk with Jesus? What does your spiritual trellis look like?

Are you living the right story ?

We live in a world of stories. We love to hear stories and tell stories. Our stories
fill out our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope. My son Richard was home
from Rwanda a month ago and he and his sisters and I were sitting around our
living room sharing stories. It got a little weepy at one point. My young
granddaughter Kylie stopped at the door for a moment, left and returned with an
armload of stuffed sheep. She quietly went to each person and dropped a sheep
into their arms then she left. We all hugged our sheep and kept telling stories but
that sensitive act of Kylie is a story worth telling.
The Christmas story is a story of God stepping into our weepy human story with
a lamb and weaving our story into his bigger story. The challenge for most
people is that there are so many different versions of Christmas stories that it
can be confusing. Getting the right story is important because that story will
define our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope.
The main Christmas story most of our children hear is that they are at the center
of the story. By being good and doing good they can get what they want. If they
get what they want they will be happier, with-it, smarter, comfortable, loved. All
their hopes and dreams will be satisfied.
Christmas in the first story is about what we give and what we get. When we get
older it’s about dressing up and getting out, eating, putting a smile on our face
and staying busy shopping – but it’s still about giving and getting. There’s a
popular commercial that boldly says “I want that.” That’s the first story.
The alternate Christmas story of the Bible is the one we quickly refer to at this
time of year and then put back on the shelf until next year. In this story God is at
the center and it is all about him – his love, his gift, his action, his sacrifice. The
story is plain and simple, nothing to attract Hollywood to make a film about it.
It’s about a sin-broken world wrestling with overwhelming issues, people making
self-destructive choices, desperate for a Saviour, hoping against hope to make it
through another day. It’s about the Creator stepping off his throne as our king
and being humiliated to becoming a baby in a refugee family. When we grow up
with this story we realize that the tag line changes from “I want that” to “He
wants this.”
Why is the right Christmas story so important when it comes to our identity,
purpose, need and hope?
Perhaps during 2018 we can focus more intentionally on exposing our hearts to
the right story.