Thursday, December 31, 2015

Aftermath, restoration, and a new year

It is quiet now, in our home.

The refrigerator, once stuffed to the gills, is mostly empty.  Shawn and I polished off a bunch of leftovers last night--roasted vegetables and lamb, some sausage and spaghetti squash lasagna--after our fourth trip to O'Hare in three days.  I finished the last cup of yogurt for breakfast this morning.  There's still quite a bit of ham, and a dwindling container of cheesy mashed potatoes, so we won't go hungry tonight.

The Christmas decorations.  At this point in the season, they always seem to adopt a sag, a droop, a tiredness.  They remind me of my own body, giving in to gravity with age.  Once perky, red-plaid bows hang loose on evergreen garland that has slowly worked its way downward along the slope of the stairway railing.  I wanted to leave the decorations up through the new year.  Tonight will be the last night we turn the Christmas lights on; then the tear-down will begin.

Yes.  Four trips to O'Hare in three days.  Shannon and David had flights out on Monday at 8:30 p.m.  There was a big storm in Chicago on Monday, but it was mostly over by evening.  We spent the day checking for cancellations, but were apprised of nothing.  So, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive up to Chicago at about 4 p.m. as the sun was going down.

After we'd driven for about an hour, David received notification that his flight was cancelled.  Shannon, however, did not.  So we soldiered on.

We dropped Shannon at O'Hare at about 6:30 p.m.  Darkness had descended over the wintery earth, and it felt much later than that.  Shannon's flight still claimed to be departing on time, so she braved the disgruntled crowds spewing their misery all over the airport, and shouldered her way through to the concourse where her flight should eventually be assigned a gate.

Not sure whether to believe that her plane would really leave, we hung around the area, eventually looking up a place to go out for dinner and kill some time.  Finding the restaurant was an adventure in traversing poorly plowed roads. I'm not sure how Shawn did it, actually.  Sometimes we couldn't tell where the road was, and once he had to bust through a snowbank.  Finally, we got to a Lou Malnati's somewhere north of the airport and settled in for some deep-dish pizza.

Meanwhile, Shannon's flight was delayed from 8:30 to 10:30.  While we slowly chewed and swallowed savory sausage, cheese and mushrooms in a cozy restaurant north of the fray, Shannon's gate attendants made announcements: "The plane has arrived!"  and, "We now have a gate assignment!" and, "The pilot is here!" and, "We are just waiting for the crew to disembark from a different aircraft!"

It sounded like it was going to be a go, against all odds.  We headed home, texting Shannon often as we looped southward around the airport.  We passed the airport, continued down the beltway, and eventually merged onto 57 south toward home.

At 11:26 p.m. Shannon texted us that her flight was cancelled after all.  She was rescheduled to a flight on Wednesday afternoon.

At 11:30 p.m. Shawn found an exit on 57 and turned around to go back up to O'Hare.

Meanwhile, David had been working on rescheduling his own flight.  It looked like there was a 2 p.m. flight on Wednesday that he could take, that would coordinate nicely with Shannon's rescheduled flight.  However, when he used his "smart"phone to try to get it, somehow the system automatically assigned him to a 2 p.m. flight on Tuesday.  He tried repeatedly to change it, and to call in and talk to someone about changing it.  He could not get through.

At 12:26 a.m. we arrived back at O'Hare and retrieved Shannon, and thus began the 2.5 hour drive home, which would be longer, because we couldn't go straight home, but had to deliver Jonathan to his apartment, for he had to work Tuesday morning.  (Jon had joined us for the company and hoping for dinner at Lou's.  He is the only one who got what he wanted that night.)

We fell into bed sometime between 3:30 and 3:45 a.m.  We just dropped the suitcases in the entryway and fell into bed.  I did brush my teeth.  By some miracle, neither of the dogs had had an accident during the 11.5 hours we'd been gone.  God is good.

The dogs woke up and needed attention Tuesday morning at 7:52 a.m.  I tried to handle this quietly so Shawn could rest after his marathon drive.  While the dogs ate, I brewed a large pot of strong coffee, just in case, but after walking the dogs, I passed up the coffee and slipped back into bed. However, David never did get through to his airline, so there was a tap at our bedroom door at about 8:45 a.m. We were back on the road to O'Hare by 9:37 a.m.  David drove this time, and Shawn tried to do some work on his computer on the way.  We pulled back into "departures" at O'Hare shortly after noon, and David set out for his own adventure in flying.  He was technically standby, but he was able to get a seat and make it to Durham.

Shawn and I arrived back at our house by about 3:00 p.m. where I crashed for a quiet late afternoon with Shannon, who had kept the dogs company during the Tuesday airport excursion.  Shawn worked at home in our study.  He had also scheduled a Homeowners' Association Meeting for our neighborhood HOA, at our house, that evening at 7.  Shannon and I hid antisocially in the family room and watched Chip and Joanna Gaines on "Fixer Upper."

After a decent night's rest, we were up and on the road to O'Hare again Wednesday morning, this time with Shannon.  The good news: she was upgraded to a first class seat.  So there is that.  We took the dogs this time.  They were good.  It was a decent day.  Shannon got home as smoothly as could be hoped.  Additionally, here is a picture of when we dropped her off:

Do you know what time it was at that moment?  It was 11:11 a.m.  The fact that God worked out the detail of that picture being taken at 11:11 was a blessing, a mercy, a divine act of lovingkindness which helped me rest in Him and not fret about the travel situation for the rest of that day.

Today.  Today I did not go to O'Hare.  The house is quiet.  Schubert is literally trembling at the changes in who is home and who is not, sensitive little animal that he is.  It is quiet.  Dark.  Lonely.  Cloudy.

It's been a cloudy, rainy Christmas season, and I don't mean just the weather.  Actually, on Christmas day, we went for a walk in the park, and there was golden sunshine.  It was rather fantastic.  Christmas Eve was a pretty, blue-skied day as well.

There was a song this year, "A Different Kind of Christmas."  It wasn't my favorite, but I think it was intended for people who have lost someone this year (to death, presumably).  I keep thinking, though, that this year was a different kind of Christmas for us, so many different things.  For one thing, it was the first Christmas we didn't spend with Laura.  Shannon, David and Jonathan are all going through various issues and transitions as well, which cast lenses of many different colors over our festivities and traditions.  Two years ago, Christmas 2013 was "different," in that we'd moved across the country, and I had surgery on 12/5 that year, and I'd done essentially no Christmas preparations.  But this Christmas, Christmas 2015, was profoundly different, almost frighteningly different, sliding-off-the-edge-of-the-earth different.  However, we are still here.

Christmas 2015 was a different kind of Christmas, and 2016 will be a different kind of year.

2015 was a year where I sought the Lord and clung to Him, where I depended on Him for peace.  I craved His peace, and He came through.

I began the year with John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (niv)

Somewhere during the year, I transitioned over to Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (niv)  

He's been speaking to me.  He's been comforting me.  I asked for peace, and He gave me peace, hope, joy and the Holy Spirit.  He didn't give me all of the solutions and outcomes I wanted to see, but He gave me Himself.  There is nothing better that He could give me, but I long to see Him give Himself to people I love, in the same way that He has given Himself to me.

This year,  I want to ask for restoration.  Restoration.  His restoration.

Psalm 23:3 says that He restores my soul.  I yearn to see Him restore my soul, and the souls of a number of others whom I love dearly.  I desire the glory of His handiwork displayed, restoring joy to the sorrowful and rest to the weary.  I want to see Him restore sight to the blind and truth to the deceived.  I want to see the restoration of comfort to the hurting, community to the lonely, home to the homeless, and hope to the hopeless.  I want to see the power of His loving hands at work in the world.

I see a shepherd lovingly following after a tattered and filthy lamb, injured yet stubbornly heading its own way.  This gentle shepherd knows where the lamb is struggling; He knows in which thorny bushes it attempts to hide from His loving eyes.  The cold and the rain and the snow will beat down on this vulnerable sheep, but the Shepherd will not leave it out in the wilderness alone.  He is right there, in the storm, zealous to take the battered lamb into His arms and carry it home, to restore it to the fold where His sheep abide in safety while He Himself guards the gate.

The Lord is our shepherd.  He provides all our needs.  He restores our souls.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives as we dwell under His loving care.

Dear, merciful, kind Lord Jesus, please let 2016 be a year of restoration.

(this is a picture from back when we lived in New York, where the sky is usually white)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Regaining peace


It is the 17th of December, and a few things are happening that threaten to steal my peace.

I find myself praying frantically, heart pounding, stomach churning.  I pray.  I read my Bible.  I try to breathe.  I pray some more.

And then I remember that it is not about my prayers.  It is about the hand of God.

My prayers do not direct the outcome of God's will.  God will accomplish His purposes.  Period.

My prayers do not wake up a sleepy God who has forgotten to pay attention.  The Father above does not slumber nor sleep.  He is always watching, always working, always attentive to the plight of His people.

My prayers, in and of themselves, have no power.  It is the God to whom I pray who has power.

My prayers remind me that God is God, my loving, attentive, almighty heavenly Father.

God cares.

God has a purpose and a plan, and He cannot be thwarted.

God is merciful, loving and kind.

God is always present, everywhere.

God never worries, for He directs the doings of the Universe with sovereign control.

God knows the end of the story, even though I do not.

God's love never fails.  Unfailing love, the Bible calls it, over and over again.

If you look at the problem, it will always seem too big to handle, too frightening to face.

But God is the solution, and He will never fail.  So look at God; keep your eyes on Jesus.

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
~from Isaiah 40:31 (niv)

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.~Isaiah 26:3 (niv)

May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.
~Psalm 33:22 (niv)

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
~from Romans 16:20 (niv)  

We can pray, and then we can rest in the Lord.  He hears our prayers, but do you know what?  He has ideas that are far better than our ideas.  He knows what to do.  He never makes a mistake.  He cares for us.  He is good.  He is on our side.  He is mighty in battle, and always victorious.

He has this.  He will not fail.  He Himself is our peace.

He is where I regain my peace. 

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.
~Psalm 131:2-3 (niv) 

(I may need to come back and read this to myself a number of times.) 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If you're hurting this Christmas

The trouble with Christmas is the pressure to be happy, joyful, cheery, on top of your game.

It is much easier to be all of these things when they are not an expectation.

So, you see, the expectations for Christmas joy and cheer can set the stage for trouble, even if your life sails along on a mostly even keel.

But the trouble is all the greater when your course turns askew.

What do you do when a great shadow looms over your life, when your heart is broken, when loss stares you in the face, or the threat of impending loss . . . then what?

When it seems like everybody else is all, "Jingle all the way!" Sprinkling glitter and snowflakes and confectioner's sugar.  Expecting you to smile and join the laughter and the song.  When this is going on, but your heart is bleeding out inside of you, what do you do?

You remember Jesus.

Jesus cares about you.

Jesus sees through the hoopla and and the bling, hears beyond the frenzied voices and the seasonal music.  Jesus sees you: your heart, your tears, your empty hands and jumbled thoughts.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
~Psalm 34:18 (esv)

He heals the brokenhearted 
and binds up their wounds.
~Psalm 147:3 (esv)

This is exactly why Jesus came, why that baby packaged full of the Divine essence was delivered to a  humble stable in the midst of the craziness of a Roman census. He came to save us from the brokenness of the world.  He said so Himself, when He got older.

And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
~Luke 4:16-20 (esv)
This quote that Jesus read comes from Isaiah 61:1, and in Isaiah 61:1, it also says, ". . . He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. . . "

Jesus came to bind our broken hearts.  Sometimes our hearts are broken because of our own spiritual blindness and captivity in sin.  Sometimes our hearts are broken because of sin's effects on someone else.  Sometimes our hearts are broken simply because we miss somebody we love.

No matter what kind of care is wearing away at you, bring it to Jesus.

Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.   ~1 Peter 3:7 (kjv)

He delights to comfort you with the glory of who He is.  He will never condemn you for your sorrow.  He will wipe away your tears and (eventually) make all things new.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Life lately

Did I mention that my husband's job changed?

The little company he worked for was acquired by a much larger company.  For the first time in 23 years, we have dental benefits.

Last Friday, the former president of the small, newly acquired company resigned from his new position within the new, large structure.

My husband has traveled approximately 7 out of the past 9 weeks.  Or maybe 8.

Three weeks ago, I went along with him and visited our daughter who is in the Canton, Ohio area.  Shawn had visits ranging from east of Pittsburgh to Cleveland, so Lulu was right in the middle of it all.

Two weeks ago, the kids came home for Thanksgiving, and Shawn was in town, too!

David's flight back to NC after Thanksgiving was scheduled to leave Chicago O'Hare at 8 a.m. Black Friday morning.  He would have needed to be at the airport by 6:30 a.m., which means we'd have had to leave here by 4 a.m. and contend with Chicago's Black Friday traffic to boot.  That was bad enough, but Shannon was leaving at 9 p.m. the same day, and we didn't really want to spend all day in Chicago, nor did we want to drive to Chicago and back twice in one day.

So we decided to keep DJ home for a couple extra days, and then he and I drove our van to NC on Sunday.  It worked nicely, because Shawn had a trip to southern California all that week.  The dogs and I went to David's, and I was spared what would have been yet another week of loneliness.

Sunday-after-Thanksgiving traffic home with David turned out to be not-what-we-were-hoping.  Heavy traffic, accidents and unrelenting, pelting rain turned a 12 hour drive into about 15.  But, you know, when you spent a long period of your earlier life needing to navigate the route from NY to Minnesota at the same time of year, it leaves you grateful that rain is not snow, and wet roads are not iced over.

It was a good week in North Carolina, even if it began with a rainy chill.

Perhaps I nearly drove David and his roommate crazy by tidying their space and organizing the refrigerator.  It was astonishing how much space I was able to create by grouping similar items, taking things out of grocery bags and putting them where they could be seen and recognized, placing produce in produce drawers, and situating short containers on short shelves so that tall containers could go on tall shelves.

At one point, David's roommate opened the refrigerator and peered inside, slightly shuddering with shock at the altered sight.  He froze for a moment, disoriented.  "Can I help you?"  I asked.  "What are you looking for?"

Still staring straight ahead, he replied, "I just want to make a sandwich."

Easy!  I said, "Sandwich meat and cheese are in the deli drawer."  I put my finger on the deli drawer, in case he didn't know what it was, which I thought might be the case, as it had formerly contained onions and a chunk of partially unwrapped butter.  "Condiments are in the door, where they were before, and so is your bread."  He happily gathered an armload of ingredients and took them to the table.

It is a lot more fun to tidy someone else's home than to tidy your own home.  I do not know why this is.  Perhaps it is because you don't have to finish; you can just work on what you want to work on, and stop when you are happy with what you have accomplished.  I did not try to organize the entire kitchen, but throughout the week I was there, the order increased a bit each day, as I found where things went, and then gathered up all the loose items that could be put away in a location.  For instance, paper cups and plates.  There were packages of paper cups and plates everywhere.  One day, I opened a low cupboard and found a supply of paper products.  Immediately, I gathered all the paper cups and plates from the entire kitchen and stashed them in this cupboard.  I felt like I'd just caught a long pass to score a touchdown.

It was a nice stay.  I went to two Bible studies, read two books, enjoyed two shakes from a place called Cook Out, met the mystery roommate who had been away at a conference every other time we'd been in town, and watched a documentary about the life of the man who played Big Bird on Sesame Street.  On Friday night, Shawn flew in from Cali.  On Saturday, we helped DJ put plastic over a drafty window, attended a Duke performance of The Messiah, and dined at a Peruvian restaurant with a group of DJ's best friends (nice selection of gluten-free menu choices).  On Sunday, we drove home, light traffic and clear weather allowing us to make it in 12 hours, just as we would have hoped.

I have other things in my mind today that I would like to remember, but the stories are too long to tell.  Remind me to discuss the concept of resilience sometime soon.

Meantime, we need to get a Christmas tree up around here!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The goodness of the Lord

Of all the Lord's attributes, His goodness is the one I struggle most to understand.

I do not know why this is, because so many of His other attributes are intrinsically related to goodness.  Purity is a form of goodness, uncorrupted goodness.  Righteousness is a form of goodness, dependable, accurate goodness.  Kindness, mercy, grace -- all these things are types of goodness, the goodness of generosity, of mitigating punishment, of extending unmerited favor.  It is easy for me to feel the truth that God is pure, righteous, kind, merciful and gracious.  Why then do I struggle to believe His goodness?  Don't all these other things prove that He is good?

God's attributes fall into two main categories:  (1) His goodness, and (2) His sovereign, almighty power.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
that You, O God, are strong,
and that You, O Lord, are loving.
~Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, emph. mine)

Love, kindness, goodness -- these virtues, if removed from strength and power, are ineffective.  Of what use is it that I want to do you a favor, if I cannot do you a favor?

Power, might, sovereign control -- these attributes, if removed from goodness and love, are downright dangerous.

The Bible clearly teaches that God is the perfect combination of goodness and omnipotence, of love and strength.  With God, we have nothing to fear, because everything He desires to do, He has the power to do, and everything He does is motivated by love, for our good.  He is perfectly faithful, and He will never fail.

So why do I sometimes find myself hung up over the idea of the goodness of the Lord?

Perhaps it is because we humans naturally associate goodness with two things: compliance and pleasure.

Let's consider compliance:
A compliant child obeys his parents.  He is quiet and cooperative, sweet-spirited and easy to be around.  He agrees and doesn't argue.  He learns the rules and follows them.  "What a good little boy," we say.  "What a delightful child."  Likewise, a good dog comes when it is called and stays off the furniture.  A good car starts when you turn the key and is easy to steer.

God does not act in response to our turning a key.  We do not steer Him (He steers us).  God does not obey our commands like a genie in a bottle, for He is God, and we are not.  He does not cooperate with our agenda; it is our job to cooperate with His agenda.  We do not make rules for Him; He makes rules for us.

God is not compliant.

One of the most helpful explanations I've ever come across, with regard to the goodness of God, is from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  When the children (the main characters) are speaking with some beavers, they discover that Aslan is a lion, and Lucy cries out, "Is he safe?"  Mr. Beaver replies something on the order of, "Of course he isn't safe, but he's good."

God isn't safe.  But He's good.  He won't give you everything you ask for, but He'll give you everything you need to accomplish His purpose for your life.  He won't keep pain out of your life, but He will faithfully keep every promise He has made.  He will forgive your sins when you ask Him to.  He will grant salvation to everyone who believes, and He will never leave or forsake His children.  He is preparing heaven for us, and He will take us there at the end of this age, delivering us into a glorious paradise beyond our wildest dreams.

God is not compliant, but He is good.

Let's consider pleasure:
"This is good ice-cream!" we say, meaning that it is delicious.  A good book was a joy to read.  A good day likely boasted beautiful weather, strapping health and successful accomplishments.  We associate happiness, success, sunshine, sweet flavors, pretty colors and feelings of bliss with goodness.  Goodness brings pleasure.

There is undeniably an aspect of pleasure in Christianity.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.
~Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

Delight yourself in the Lord
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
~Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
~Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

How lovely is Your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
~Psalam 84:1-2 (NIV)

How sweet are Your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
~Psalm 119:103 (NIV)

You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
~Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me by Your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
~Psalm 73:23-26

God is good in the sense that He grants us access to the greatest pleasure, delight, joy and fulfillment that we can possibly achieve.

Here's the rub:  Christianity may be the greatest case of delayed gratification ever known to mankind.  Your entire life on earth could be miserable, apart from the peace and joy that result from hoping in the promises of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  There are no promises that it will be otherwise.  Yes, there will be pleasure, but you must exercise faith before you receive it.  There will be no eternal pleasures without faith.  That's why Matthew 7 tells us that the way to destruction is a broad road that many travel, but the way to life is narrow and only a few find it.  You know the old adage, "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush"?  Most people accept and live by that philosophy.  It's worldly wisdom.  On the contrary, Jesus tells us that if we'll just stop trying to consume that puny sparrow in our hand, He has barnyards full of plump, juicy chickens waiting for us in glory.  We only have to trust Him.


How do we learn to trust?  How can we have faith that God is indeed good, when life on earth is full of disappointment, pain and uncertain outcome?

It all culminates in Jesus.  We can look to Jesus.  We must look to Jesus.  Jesus is the undeniable proof of the goodness of God.  In Jesus, all the promises of God are "Yes!" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

When humanity rebelled and sullied all of God's perfect creation with the stain of sin, God did not point the almighty finger of wrath and destroy us.  In contemporary, consumer-driven America, we should understand this above all things: when what someone gets is not what he wanted, he takes it back for a refund or exchange.  Or he throws it out and gets a new one.  God's creation was damaged, spoiled even, but He had already planned to fix us, to redeem us at His own personal cost, because of His goodness and His grace.  He patiently worked through the building blocks of His creation--space, time and matter--and miraculously packaged His own perfect essence in the flesh and blood body of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, delivered to earth to divert the wrath of God from the rest of us.  On the day He was crucified, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God, which we deserved and He certainly did not.  He absorbed this wrath in our place, and at the same time somehow miraculously shed His own perfect righteousness over us, so that we could be saved.  While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

This is the goodness of God.

We can see it in the sunshine, a clear blue sky, a silent snowfall or a roaring waterfall.  We see it in birds frolicking above us and squirrels scampering in furry gray arcs across the road.  We see God's goodness in gallons of milk distributed to grocery stores, and miles of corn growing in fields, and apples dangling from tree boughs in September.  We see His goodness in a hot, flickering bonfire, the kind smile of a stanger, and the squealing giggle of a little child.  A gift, a flower, a love note, a piece of jewelry, an effective medicine, a drink of water, all these things are evidences of the goodness of the Lord.

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .
~James 1:17a (NIV)

We are still here, and not destroyed, living in a world littered with remnant fragments of His goodness and glory, because of Jesus.  God is good, and Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of His goodness.  "The grace of God incarnate," I think I've heard them say.

If you ever start to doubt the goodness of God, remember our hopelessness without Him, our sin and our shame.  Then remember the grace of Jesus, the sacrifice, the surrender of His life for our lives.  Because of Jesus, we have forgiveness, freedom and hope.

For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 6:23 (NIV)

For God so loved the world
that He gave His one and only Son
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish
but have eternal life.
~John 3:16 (NIV)

Yes.  God is good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Forgiveness and Suffering

This is a repost from another blog I write (Seeking Wisdom, Craving Grace -- I don't write there very often, and next to nobody reads it, but it's a place I find myself revisiting).  I thought of this old post today, because (1) I've been studying Revelation and we are getting into the part about the persecution of the saints, and (2) I read a book over the last couple of days, and the end of this book dealt deeply with forgiveness, but the author did not cover this particular aspect of it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I write a lot about suffering here, probably because suffering is a Biblical reality that I find missing from much Biblical teaching.

(aside:  I am no masochist.  I don't write about suffering because I like it.  I write about suffering because I think there is a lack of solid Christian teaching on the subject--not that I am claiming to be solid, but an attempt at teaching is better than no teaching in an area that most people don't care to broach.  I write about suffering because Christians who are suffering need to know that it is a normal part of life on a fallen earth and does not mean that God doesn't love them.  I write about suffering because some Biblically uniformed people seem to think that the existence of suffering is somehow a proof against the existence of God.  But I don't write about suffering because I like to.  I don't like suffering any more than anybody else.)

One theme of the Bible is this:  you will be refined through suffering and trials.  It's stated over and over.  Off the top of my head, I can give you Romans 5:3-51 Peter 1:6-7 and James 1:2-4.

This may not be our favorite or most marketable truth, as Christians.  But the Bible clearly tells us that we will suffer.  Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." (from John 16:33)

Honestly, I have not met many people who are worth knowing who have not suffered.  Suffering tenders people, deepens their ability to have compassion.  God uses suffering to make our spirits beautiful.  When we suffer, we learn things we could never learn in any other way.

I have always dreaded suffering, good results notwithstanding.  I am a Big Chicken.  I do not like pain.

Philippians 3:8-10 (ESV) says,   
Indeed, I count everything as loss 
because of the surpassing worth 
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things 
and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 
and be found in him, not having a righteousness 
of my own that comes from the law, 
but that which comes through faith in Christ, 
the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, 
and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 
that by any means possible I may attain 
the resurrection from the dead.

It does exhilarate me to think of casting aside "all things" as rubbish for the greater good of knowing Christ.  I am not sure how to do this, and I am quite sure that apart from the power of the Holy Spirit I am utterly unable to accomplish itStill, the idea appeals to me.

However, sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death... that scares me a great deal.

Suffering for Jesus makes me think of Christians in countries where it is illegal to be a Christian.  It makes me think of being thrown into prison, starved, beaten, tortured.  Because I have a pathologically vivid imagination, I will spare you the details of all the things it makes me think of.  Suffice it to say, it scares me to death.

I may be called to suffer like that.  Some people are, and some people are not.  But we are all called to suffer for Christ, and there are other, more every-day ways that God accomplishes this in us.

For instance, the other day I was reading and thinking about Ephesians 4: 32 (ESV),
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, 
forgiving one another, 
as God in Christ forgave you. 

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  What does that mean?  How did God in Christ forgive me?

In Christ, God forgave me by bearing the consequences of my sins Himself, in His own human body that He indwelt in order to accomplish the task (see Philippians 2:5-11).  He did not simply say, "Whooops!  You made some mistakes, but no big deal. I'll just forgive you, and you can start over with a clean slate, don't worry about it.  It's no big deal.  It doesn't matter."

It does matter.  Our sins are a very big deal, an offense against the perfect, holy, almighty Creator of the Universe.  Our sins do not just vaporize and blow away in a gentle breeze.  It was not, could not be, that easy.  To free us from the consequences of our sins, Jesus had to bear the consequences Himself.

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.   

This means that we forgive others, as Christ did, by suffering the consequences of their sins.  We bear the brunt.  We suffer what the person who hurt us should rightfully suffer.  And we do it because it's what Jesus did for us; it's the pattern He laid down.  We, like Jesus, must hold out mercy and self-sacrifice to our enemies, rather than demanding vengeance.  We must suffer, like Jesus, and entrust our souls to God, believing with all the faith He has given us that God Himself will take care of the ending.

This is very hard.  It is unpalatable.  But it is what the Bible says. 

It is hard, but we have opportunities all the time.  We don't have to wait for the government to make Christianity illegal and throw us into prison.  We can share in the suffering of Christ every time someone wrongs us and we choose to absorb the hurt with forgiveness.

And as we trust God, He will make all things right.  As He raised, restored and glorified Christ, so He will raise, restore and glorify all of His children after we have struggled to learn, to trust, to take up our crosses and follow Him.