Thinking a few weeks ago with a group about what missionaries need if they are to last in the ministry. We all agreed that most evangelicals lack an adequate theology of suffering. I don’t think this is limited to any one age group or generation but the younger generation may be facing an even more fundamental challenge–that of dealing with rejection.
Heard this quote when I was watching Castle (Season 4, Episode 3) last night.
“Rejection is not failure. Failure is giving up. Everybody gets rejected. How you handle it determines where you end up.”
And then I read Mickey Goodman’s article, “Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids.” She quotes Tim Elmore,
“We are consumed with protecting them instead of preparing them for the future. We haven’t let them fall, fail and fear. The problem is that if they don’t take risks early on like climbing the monkey bars and possibly falling off, they are fearful of every new endeavor at age 29.”
Here are a few uncomfortable solutions to the problem that Goodman and Elmore suggests
- We need to let our kids fail at 12–which is far better than at age 42
- Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts
- Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences.
- Balance autonomy with responsibility.
A favorite song of many evangelicals is the popular (Don Moen?) song, “God is Good.” Well, that is partially right but may tends to ignore the harsh realities of life. Randy Stonehill’s song, Life is Tough, God is Good, might be closer to the whole truth. Enjoy the following version.
Being present this week with my sister who is dying of cancer has pulled me back to Psalm 86. You can pick up the tone of the Psalm in verse 1:
“Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”
Re-writing v14 to reflect cancer as the enemy.
“O God, an insolent disease has arisen against me
a band of ruthless cancer cells seeks my life
no respecter of persons or of God.”
In Psalm 86, the Psalmist cries out to God for help (“preserve my life”, “save your servant”, “be gracious to me”, “gladden my soul”, “Give ear to my prayer”, “listen to my plea for grace” and more. But he does so because he trusts in the character of God. A key point since we often doubt God’s character when circumstances turn dark.
- you are good and forgiving 5
- abounding in steadfast love 5
- none like you 8
- you are great 10
- you do wondrous things 10
- you alone are god 10
- great is your steadfast love toward me 13
- you are a God merciful and gracious 15
- slow to anger 15
- abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness 15
Back to cancer as the enemy–Psalm 86 closes with my version of verse 17
“Show me a sign of your grace and goodness
put this cancerous disease to shame
After a long time away from reading Parchment and Pen, I just read the top ten reasons the dispensationalists did not cross the road. IMHO, here are the best ones.
9. They thought that the other side was for Israel and this side was for the church.
7. It is pointless since Jesus is just going to bring them back after 7 years.
6. Like the OT prophets and the church age, they were unable to see the other side.
5. They counted and it would take 18 steps. That divided by 3 is 6. 666. Therefore, crossing the road would be taking the mark of the beast.
3. Dallas Theological Seminary has yet published anything telling us how to do it.
1. They thought we would be raptured before we got there anyway.
Lest anyone think that they are picking on dispensationalists (of which I am one), they also have posts on why did the reformed theologian not . . . 11. A woman already crossed. We don’t follow women.
why did the evangelical not . . . 5. On the other side of the road there was a guy who was the friend of a friend of a friend who voted for Obama.
why did the arminian not 11. He is the one who is in charge. No one is going to make him do anything. 10. We are not sure if he will cross or not. No one knows. Not even God.
and why did the emerger not cross the road. 7. Because only arrogant people cross roads.
Click on these links to read the entire posts. Be sure to laugh at yourself when you find your theological position! In looking for a chicken picture, I found posts here and here which provide various answers to the classic question
I love Jesus but I enjoy spending time with Paul, even though I have never met Paul personally! Jesus, oh yes, we have met personally and do so often! Of course since Paul points the way to Jesus, I greatly appreciate–value, treasure, even memorize what he has to say!
I don’t remember ever having had a crisis about Jesus versus Paul. Note: I have had many crises unrelated to theological issues! Admittedly, I was more Pauline in my early days as a Christian in a Bible Church and definitely I have become more Jesus centered in the last decade. I value my friends who have kept me focused on the gospel, the good news about Jesus that Paul so clearly explains in 1 Cor 15. Staying focused on the gospel helps all of us to remain centered in what is truly the good news! Kingdom focused–yes! Justification by faith–yes! Scott McKnight in a CT article, Jesus vs. Paul summarizes well some tricky theological issues most of us may have missed. Following are two paragraphs towards the end that sum up what he is trying to say:
There is something here that courses through the pages of the Gospels: Jesus and John see themselves as the ones who complete Israel’s story, and their story is the saving story. This is exactly what Paul said the gospel was. Jesus may have spoken of kingdom, and Paul may have spoken of justification, but underneath both kingdom and justification is Christology: It is the story about Jesus, who is Messiah and Lord and who brings the kingdom and justifies sinners by faith
But if we begin with gospel, and if we understand gospel as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, then we will find what unifies Jesus and Paul—that both witness to Jesus as the center of God’s story. The gospel is the core of the Bible, and the gospel is the story of Jesus. Every time we talk about Jesus, we are gospeling. Telling others about Jesus leads to both the kingdom and justification—but only if we begin with Jesus
Some significant and tough questions from the journal at caring bridge for our friend John, who continues to write in the aftermath of his wife’s death earlier this year.
“Tuesday, I was in a muddle. Not depressed but not doing great. Life wasn’t falling apart, but it wasn’t going great either. It was a bit like being on autopilot. Nothing much motivated me and I wasn’t really concerned about it. I was getting by – “muddling” through. Gratefully it didn’t last long. I realized my birthday was coming (tomorrow, the 10th) and I was entering another one of my firsts without Lynn. It’s the challenge of living each day by faith.
In August 2009, Lynn and I visited her mom, Jerri, and her husband David. We knew David’s health was failing and we really wanted to see him again (Sept. 1st was the anniversary of his passing away). While we were there, we all went to the musical “Oklahoma.” There was a scene in the show that I’ve often remembered the past 7 months. A group of cowboys were paired up with cowgirls and they were dancing around the stage – spinning, swinging and flowing around. It was full of life and energy and joy. It powerfully pictures for me the challenge I have. I’ve imagined myself with Lynn as one of those couples dancing when suddenly, she was gone! The Lord pulled back the veil, extended His hand and she stepped onto the stage of eternity in a new role in a story we cannot begin to imagine! But I’m left here on the same stage and the music is playing and everyone else is dancing.
What am I to do? Do I keep dancing as if I had a partner? Do I quickly slip out of the way and off the stage? Perhaps I should simply move to the side and sit down and tap my foot. Or maybe I could move to the front of the stage and start a solo? Certainly simply stopping in everyone’s way would cause a muddle or worse!
Who am I now after spending 32 years with two seeking to become one and now, I am alone? What is my new role on the stage of life?
I just picked up a book by Henri Nouwen again, and he had this to say about the quote above, “Anyone who believes, Jesus reminds us, has eternal life (John 6:40)…He comes to plant the seed of eternal life” We have the opportunity of “nurturing the eternal amid the temporal…(p.48)” This is nurturing some fresh thoughts for me. Almost 40 years ago, the seed of faith burst into life in me. I am here for a purpose and I can confidently look to God, my Father, as the director of the story and follow Jesus, the hero of the story. They have the clues for my role and I believe it has to do with “nurturing the eternal amid the temporal” in this world.
The rhythm of this new dance is unfamiliar, but my heavenly Father is gracious and patient to lead, comfort and teach me. The Spirit, who is holy, will pour out rivers of living water (John 7:37-39) as a life-giving well. Why the dark of this past season? Every well flowing with living water must first start as a dark hole.
Friends, I don’t know the low, hard, dark places you may be experiencing. I know many of you have experienced huge losses this year as well. I read this week of two friends on their own journeys with cancer. My prayer for each of you is that you too would see the face of the Master of the dance, and know that even in the dark places, He is present and graciously building a well-spring of living water in your heart.
Drink deeply dear friends and thirst no more!”
Since I am from Houston, I hear a lot of comments about Joel Osteen and his massive church. I finally watched almost a full hour before I left the United States and do not regret that I never made a visit to his church to go through the live experience. I am sure they are doing some things with regards to church growth that we could all learn, regardless of our theological bent. I should probably get more angry about Osteen’s consistent teaching that God wants you well, happy and successful (ie the prosperity gospel). In my opinion he completely misses the sacrificial, self-giving, cross-bearing life of a Christ follower, a life in which we are most usually transformed into the likeness of Christ through hardship and suffering. I suppose I am more bored by his teaching than anything.
Are some of us closet prosperity gospel followers? Here is a link to a great post by Michael Kelly in which he suggests that some of us who criticize the prosperity teaching may actually be believers in ways we may not be aware. He is a guest blogger on Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like, a blog I recommend. Kelly says we may be secret followers of the prosperity gospel:
In the little things
Selective Scripture interpretation
Blessings on layaway
Heavenly barter system
More from my friend John who lost his wife a few months ago.
In my grieving process, I am where I am but the LORD is “I am who I am!” He, my shepherd is with me here where I am and that’s enough. The creator God of the universe who is powerful, present, the God of all comfort and the one who always initiates toward us with His loving kindness, mercy and grace is at my side joining me in my grief. Where else can I look for help but to the Lord who rides in majesty and Who is my help! He is and He is my help. Rest my soul rest.
More from my friend John’s journal following the death of his wife.
“It feels so unreal, so hard, so lonely. I know the truth but I don’t like it right now. I think I never will. Death is so wrong. It is evil. It is not part of God’s intent. I’m raw, shredded, wounded…I shrink from this path. I am weak & seek another way – any way, just not the way of brokenness, loneliness and sacrifice.”
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord?….” Romans 11:33-36.
If you are feeling down, then the following video is a must watch. Rather than focusing on his limitations and disabilities, Patrick Henry Hughes sees abilities and possibilities. Thanks to Michael Hyatt
I am a survivor of suicide–this means that someone close to me completed suicide– was successful in their suicide attempt. So, I am a survivor, the one left behind. In my case the first time I was put into the survivor category was over thirty-seven years ago when my mother completed suicide.
A number of years ago, I began to explore my pain in this area and one venue that was helpful was a Survivors of Suicide meeting that I attended for a few months. Equipped with a little understanding of these type of meetings, I then led a SOS meeting overseas where I was living for about a year or so. We lost a colleague to suicide in the last few years and the topic came up again and led to some conversations with a few people and my attempt to be a safe place for people to process their pain by telling the story of a past suicide in their life.
A comment on a post about suicide that I made three years ago, got me thinking again. SOS has a website but unfortunately, there are not too many meetings around–none in the city I live in now which is unfortunate. Maybe the college age students would be uncomfortable talking about these topics but if they are survivors, talking seems to be a requirement to move to healing in my opinion. Anyway, I found the following that may be helpful to some. It is designed more for those for whom the suicide was in more recent times but I think it may be helpful even if the suicide happened a long time ago. Here is another post I made about why not to commit suicide.
Suggestions for Survivors
by Iris M. Bolton
- Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
- Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know, or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
- Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but know that all your feelings are normal.
- Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.
- Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It is okay to express it.
- You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.
- Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
- Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
- Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
- Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing. Give yourself time to heal.
- Remember the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another life.
- Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
- Try to put off major decisions.
- Give yourself permission to get professional help.
- Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
- Be patient with yourself and with others who may not understand.
- Set your own limits and learn to say no.
- Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
- Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups. If not, ask a professional to help start one.
- Call on your personal faith to help you through.
- It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, e.g., headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.
- The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
- Explore your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go.
- Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.
Know that you will never be the same again, but that you can survive and even thrive.
The following thoughts come from Cornelius Plantinga’s Not the Way It Is Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Have been looking at what he says about shalom but maybe worthwhile making some posts here about sin in general.
Plantinga says that shalom is “the way things ought to be” and sin is a disturbance of shalom, a culpable shalom breaking.
Problems in talking about sin
- It is not popular, it makes people uncomfortable
- It makes us appear prudish, we may be called fundamentalists
- People question absolute truth today
- Sin is trivialized and publicly flaunted by our leaders
- People are reluctant to tell anyone that what they are doing is wrong
- “Christians are often labeled negative people”—we define what we don’t do rather than what we do do!! How do we talk about sin without being labeled negative or being “holier than thou?”
Why we need to talk about sin
- Self-deception about our sin is a narcotic, a tranquilizer and a disorienting suppression of our spiritual nervous system” xiii
- Sin is the main human trouble (worse than annoyances, regrets, old age, other miseries)
Biblical Images of Sin (1572 times in OT and 584 in NT)
- Missing of a target
- Wandering from the path
- Straying from the fold
- Hardened heart and stiffened neck
- Blindness and deafness
- Overstepping of a line and failure to reach it
- Transgression and short coming
- A beast crouching at the door
- “Sin is a disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony. Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God” 5
Sin is different from
- Crime. Crime is statute breaking, sin may not. 18
- Immorality. Not all sin is immorality. 19
- Disease. Disease is physical, makes us miserable and needs healing while sin is moral and spiritual, makes us guilty and needs grace. 19-20
- Mere error or mistake. Sin is not the same as finiteness or humanness.
All Sin is equally wrong but not all sin is equally bad
“The badness or seriousness of sin depends on some degree on the amount and kind of damage it inflicts, including damage to the sinner, and to some degree on the personal investment and motive of the sinner.” 22
For sin to be sin, there must be responsibility or blame or culpability. 23-25
Smith says, “I am praying for God to heal me.” Then, he concludes with these powerful words, “If God chooses to heal me, God is still God and God is good. If God chooses not to heal me and allows me to die, God is still God and God is still good. To God be the glory. “
Towards the end of the video, you hear the number one song on my tunes list is Your Love is Strong by Jon Foreman. May it encourage you just as this interview with Smith will.
What are the psychological conditions conducive to evil? That was the goal for Robert Jay Lifton as he wrote The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide which I should finish reading later tonight. Lifton found there are no easy answers as one physician survivor stated,
“The professor would like to understand what is not understandable. We ourselves who were there, and who have always asked ourselves the question and will ask it until the end of our lives, we will never understand it , because it cannot be understood.”
Lifton’s book focuses on a particular part of the “final solution,” one of the many terms the Nazis used to describe their attempted genocide of the Jews. He writes about the role the German medical profession played in the selection, technology and disposal of the millions killed during WW II. For most of his 500+ pages, he focuses on the events in Auschwitz, a place in which at the height of their “efficiency,” 24,000 people in one twenty-four hour period were killed and then burned or otherwise disposed. For the Nazis, the Jews were a “life unworthy of life” or a disease that must be eradicated and so they attempted to justify their attempt to “heal” the nation. As Lifton says, “Genocide is a response to collective fear of pollution and defilement” (481). “The perpetrator of genocide kills to cure himself as well as his people” (487).
This is a long and tough read and I bought it because one of my profs had mentioned it a number of years ago as a book worth reading. Lifton comes to a similar conclusion as does Roy F. Baumeister, in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty who wrote about the myth of pure evil (see my post on this). “No individual self is inherently evil, murderous, genocidal. Yet under certain conditions virtually any self is capable of becoming all of these” 497).
On a related note, my wife sent me a link to an article about why our response to hundreds of thousands of people dying is not significantly greater than our response to one person dying or in the article’s case, the life of one dog. I had never heard the story of Hokget, the dog stranded on an abandoned freighter. Worth a read!
But the real point is why don’t we care more? According to research cited in the article, our brains don’t have the capacity for dealing with the death of so many. In fact, Shankar Vedantam concludes, “We are best able to respond when we are focused on a single victim.” Maybe this provides some explanation why we cannot get our minds around the 6 million+ Jews that were killed during WW II. But, that does not make the facts any less true. If you are in any doubt, check out The Nazi Doctors.
If you want to read more about the year and the day Jesus was born and about some of the historical events of that time, you may want to read Daniel B. Wallace’s article, The Birth of Jesus Christ on Bible.org. If you are not familiar with this site, it is one that could be quite useful. The folks at this site developed the NET Bible which I have used since it first came out. The NET Bible is a great study Bible. See for yourself. You can download it free here, can search online and download to your kindle and other bible software programs for a minimal price. Here is what they say about this Bible.
The NET Bible project was commissioned to create a faithful Bible translation that could be placed on the Internet, downloaded for free, and used around the world for ministry.