Day 19

No matter what I believe about God, it is awfully difficult to keep the faith when I’m lonely.  It seems to me that it takes a village to hold onto faith during times of grief and loss and unanswered prayers.  A few years ago, I had a friend whose mom died.  My friend was the quintessential daughter – loving, caring, and ever present.  Both mom and daughter showed up for each other in amazing ways.  I remember the years my girlfriend was holding down a fulltime, stressful job while raising two toddlers.  Her mom would come over and do her laundry.  She babysat the grandchildren.  She fixed her daughter casseroles (this was back in the day when we still felt ok eating casseroles) to take home and warm up for supper. These women loved well.

It was no surprise that this daughter was at her mother’s side when Mama breathed her last breath.  She sat and held her hand, wept, and then began making calls and doing what people do when a parent passes.  One necessary “to do” of the day was to stop by the mall on the way home from the hospital.  One of her children needed a white shirt for a band concert.  There would be no exemption from fulfilling this responsibility.  My friend simply took her broken heart and walked it into Macy’s to buy that shirt.  This kind of responsibility and care was one of the many things she learned from her own mother and this, of all days, was not the day she was going to go against the principles of ever-present mothering she had learned.

Within the hour, she called me, “Teresa, would you pleeaasssse pick up your phone?  Mama just passed, and I have had the weirdest experience right in the middle of Macy’s!”

Who can NOT respond to this kind of voice message?

I called her back, and here’s a synopsis of what she said.  She walked into the store and was immediately overcome with the banality of it all.  Women were trying on dresses and buying baubles – ON THE DAY OF HER MOTHER’S DEATH, NO ONE ELSE WAS PAYING ATTENTION!  Of course, my friend was not crazy.  But she felt it, a little.  She understood intellectually that no one else knew her mother had died.  After all, wasn’t she herself standing knee-deep in men’s dress shirts, trying to find the right size for her very tall, skinny adolescent?

“In all my life, I’ve never felt so alone,” she cried into the phone.

I get it.  That’s lonely.  For the next few days, I’m going to encourage us to pick up a bible and find a Psalm that suits our emotional temperature.  I’ll pick a few selected verses and try to give you something to think about that I hope and pray will be helpful just in case you, too, are feeling lonely or disoriented.

For today, take a few moments and sit in quiet.  Thank God that he is present, and he knows you – even if you feel very unknown by others.


Day 18

Yesterday Scott talked about his perspective on the following scripture:  26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28, CEB

I love these passages even as I struggle to make sense of them.

I love that “in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”  Don’t you love that?

Scott has talked about his sensitivity to his own sinful ways; I’ve shared how I prefer defensiveness and blame-shifting as a first response to my sinful ways.  But if that’s all we focus on, what more are we about than self-focused naval  gazing?

How about this instead…”in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”

Would it be helpful, today, to assume that all of us, when in a weakened state are likely to grow forgetful of God, fallback to old patterns of self-protection, maybe even look for a scapegoat?  Let’s just assume that’s a big yes.

But after we make all those assumptions, what about this response?  We acknowledge that “in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”

My friend this week was feeling weak and lamenting her state of affairs.  Then she saw an amazing double rainbow.  It led her home.  Is this just a fantastic coincidence, or a God thing?  …”in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”  My friend knows weakness and she has God’s word as a guiding light.  All I can report is that she was filled with gratitude and the strength to carry on.

Is there any weakness you need to acknowledge, lament, and then eagerly anticipate God’s response to?


Day 17

26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28, CEB

I believe our hope is bigger than assuming God always, without fail, brings good out of every evil.

Our hope is that no matter what evil, trials, suffering, and hardship we face we know that God remains in control.  Sometimes this doesn’t help too much.  We don’t want to think about the fact that God could be in control and bad things are happening.  How do we make sense of that?  Well, short answer, we really don’t.

These verses do encourage us to have confidentant trust in God.  They’re pushing us to believe that God will end suffering and bring about good in the world.  They’re just pushing us to understand this in a more general way than what is often presented.  We can set aside questions about what sort of “good stuff” God will bring in a given situation.  We don’t have to repress or suppress emotion simply because we want to believe these verses are true.  They’re absolutely true- and we will still have suffering that appears meaningless.  We will still have hard times.  Good may come about in some of these situations and, in some, it may not.  But that does not make these verses any less true, because we have a trustworthy God who, in the grand scheme of things, knows what He’s doing.

One day, creation will stop groaning.  And we can rejoice in the fact that evil is gone without having to believe that the evil was actually good in disguise.


Day 16

26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28, CEB

I know some people who would be quite annoyed by what I wrote yesterday.  I wrote that this passage is not to be taken so individualistically as to mean that all bad things lead to good things.  I have a friend who would respond by saying I’m simply too immature at this point to be able to recognize that God works in larger ways than what I can comprehend, and that I need to accept, on faith, that good inevitably comes from bad.

My response would be that I’m trying to think both smaller and larger than that.  I’m thinking smaller in the sense that, if some good comes from a tragedy, and we’re never really able to see it…well…are we obligated to give God credit for that?  I personally don’t think so.  The Psalms don’t think so either.  I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge God is powerful, and has plans and purposes far beyond what I can comprehend.  And I’m thankful for that.  But I can’t explain to a dying person that they’re dying because God is going to make something good out of it for some person, place, or thing that person will never see.

I’m thinking about this issue “larger” in the sense that I don’t need to offer that explanation because that’s not what the Bible is communicating in the first place.  As we look at the verses that go before this, we see all this talk about how creation itself suffers right now.  The suffering is real and present.  It’s not “fake” suffering that will go away when the “good” comes out of it.  Instead, the suffering is legitimate and, yes, God will work to end all suffering, but that doesn’t mean the things we suffer have to be seen as being “good”.  Our hope is not found in believing that something good will “turn up” out of something bad.  It is found in believing that in spite of all the frustration and disappointment we face in life, God’s purposes will shine through in the end.  Often we want a more immediate source of hope than that.  But…immediacy is not what’s promised to us.  We’re promised a God who suffers in solidarity with us.

It’s possible to acknowledge God’s power and have questions about why things happen.  To do so is to suggest that God is big enough and powerful enough to be able to handle all the questions we throw at Him.  We’re told faith is a relationship, so let’s treat it that way.  Let’s get angry when we need to and questions when we need to and put our issues out on the table when we need to.

How else are we going to get through all this?


Day 15

26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28, CEB

What do we hope for?  What are we allowed to hope for?

What can we expect of God?  Should we expect anything?

These are legitimate questions, particularly during times of great suffering.  I spend time each day thinking of and praying for the Sompayracs.  For those of you who don’t know, their 18 year old son is in the hospital battling cancer.  I’m sure they’re wrestling with these questions, or questions like these.  When doctors have handed down a prognosis, what do we do with our hope?

I’ve heard these verses talked about a lot, especially verse 28.  I hear people use this verse as a way of saying “everything happens for a reason, we just may not know what that reason is”.  It’s possible there’s some truth to that.  Certainly things happen for reasons we know nothing of.  But, at the end of the day, that philosophy is awfully simplistic and far too trite.  And it’s not really what these verses are addressing.

When we look at all of chapter 8, and more specifically the 25 verses before this, we realize that Paul is talking about how God works in all of creation.  In other words, God is going to bring all of creation to a close in a way that is hopeful for those who love God.  This means that God is in control of how history comes to an end, which is a much different thing than saying that every bad thing happens so that some good thing will happen later.

So what can we hope for?  What is our hope in?  Our hope is that God is in control over creation and over history.  Our hope is that some how, some way, God is going to bring all creation to a close in a way that is in accordance with His will and His will alone.

This means we don’t have to pretend that bad things are good.  Good doesn’t always come from bad.  We don’t have to ignore or repress suffering simply because someone tells us that some good is coming from it somewhere.  It’s really hard to find hope in that place.  We don’t tell Mark, Marsha, Luke, and Will that good will come from what’s going on right now.  Our hope is in something bigger than cliches and platitudes.

The real question is this:  Can we find hope in knowing God is in ultimate control of the universe?  Maybe that seems too broad.  Maybe it seems difficult to connect to because it seems impersonal.  But what is more personal than knowing God cares about what happens to all of the things He’s created?

Let me know your thoughts.

 


Day 14

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 4 While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7 Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.  John 9:1-7, CEB

Yesterday I talked about my friends (and friends of friends) who brag about being “hard on sin” because it makes them vicious “truth-tellers”.  If you missed it, go back and take a look before reading this.

Being hard on sin isn’t about using the word as often as you can in your vocabulary.  It’s actually trusting that Jesus shows us who God is and how to live accordingly.  This means living lives of grace, trust, respect, forgiveness, mercy, and more.  It doesn’t mean we get to walk around and push everyone out of our path simply because God has already shown us grace.

Living a transformed life is hard.  Taking Jesus’ teaching seriously means a lot of suffering and sacrifice.  It doesn’t mean talking one way and living another simply because we know in our brains that God is gracious and will forgive us.  We are, indeed, very thankful that God continues to show us mercy and grace.  But what does it say about us if we are willing to receive mercy and grace without being willing to show mercy and grace?

My friend has fooled himself into thinking that talking a big game is what it means to follow God because most people are simply too afraid to talk about “sin”.  Well, maybe I am a bit afraid to talk about it.  Maybe I am afraid of how people will respond.  Maybe I’m too sensitive and averse to my own shame.  But this I know, I’d rather live a life of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love because I don’t want my sin nature to take over than to walk through life like a bulldozer that squashes everything and everyone in its path just because I think God has forgiven me.

We can hope for more than just the knowledge that forgiveness is there.  We can actually participate in the spread of God’s love and forgiveness.  We can find purpose in that.  We can find God Himself in that.

Isn’t that worth striving for?  Isn’t that what it means to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?  Isn’t that what it means to be fully surrendered to God, trusting solely in His will?

I think so anyway.


Day 13

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 4 While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7 Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.  John 9:1-7, CEB

I know a number of Christians who say they take sin very seriously.  I have one in particular in mind.  When he says he takes sin very seriously, what it means is he talks a lot about what a great sinner he is and how he asks God very fervently to forgive him.  All he talks about, pretty much, is his “sin” and how God has shown him “grace”.  This is what it means to be serious.

But, as far as I can tell, this friend spends very little time trying to figure out what it might look like to truly allow God’s grace to take hold of his life.  From what I’ve seen, he is routinely rude, if not downright disrespectful, to his wife and children.  He was a lazy employee (we worked together) and often lied to our boss.  He treated people like they didn’t matter.  Frankly, the guy is a jerk.  (Side note: this is my judgment and it is probably inappropriate to say so, but I can tell you I’m not alone in having this opinion.  Our mutual friends pretty much agree.)  Granted, faith is about a lot more than just relationships, it’s about trusting and following God as He carries out His plans, but don’t we learn a lot about our character (and our transformation) from how we treat people?

He’s not the only person I know like this, he just represents a group of people who think it’s important to sound like big, tough guys who “aren’t afraid” to talk about sin like those weak Christians out there.  Well, they may not be afraid, but they do seem to be afraid to do something about it.  They seem afraid of living the kind of gracious, merciful transformed lives where they allow God to penetrate every aspect of life.  I can’t blame them.  I’m afraid of committing to that too.  How could I possibly live up to the standard of allowing God’s grace to take over everything?

More on this tomorrow.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 149 other followers