no more drippy sentimentality

God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

Psalm 22:1-2; MSG

On a human level I like the Bible because it’s real, not flinching from life as it is, not providing some way of escape or denial. But facing it, and being honest and truthful about it.

So much of pop culture, even Christian popular culture, and specifically the evangelical tradition of it which I lived in many years is full of sentimentality. By sentimental, what I mean is feeling good, close, warm, and that everything is alright or will work out. Maybe we can add the power of positive thinking into the mix.

We do need faith in the midst of all the trouble and trauma of life. And that’s exactly what we see, even in the opening lines of Psalm 22 as rendered by Eugene Peterson. The psalmist echoed by Jesus on the cross did not hide their pain or true thoughts. And actually, when you think about it, this was a part of their faith.

We need to read the entire psalm to see that there is indeed a good ending. That God lifts up the one in pain, those in pain as well, all who look to him, all who put their hope in God indeed right in the midst of their pain and trouble.

Honesty before God first, and before others where appropriate is important. We do no one any favors by sugarcoating what is bitter. Scripture doesn’t do that. Jesus didn’t. We who are his followers should not, either. We’re in this together in Jesus, but in real life, not just the good, presentable part, but all of it. In and through Jesus.

Thoughts inspired by Tim Gombis’s helpful podcast: Faith Improvised: Sovereignty, Suffering, Sports, Etc.

what to do with pain

There are days when it seems like you get up out of the wrong side of the bed. When thoughts, usually one at a time, but they can then come in streams, trouble you. Add to that, you might have a chronic physical malady such as a headache, backache, or some other body ache from a past injury or physical condition. There’s no doubt that pain is a fact of life. It’s inevitable.

I think the worst pain is spiritual. Something gnawing in our souls. Actually the physical and especially the mental pain from discouraging thoughts often stem from the emptiness of, or any kind of attack on one’s spiritual well being. There just is no doubt, to underline the thought, that pain is a matter we off and on live with. Some chronic, like evidently Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Or acute, for a period of time, sometimes a long time, but sooner or later passing.

First thing I would like to say in addressing pain: don’t give into it. At the same time, pay attention to what might underlie it. Physical pain can be a blessing if it can point us to the source of whatever problem we might have, so that it might be alleviated. Whatever other pain we have is probably indicative of something beneath the surface, coming up so that maybe through confession and prayer, and sometimes through counseling and medication we can deal with it.

Not giving into pain does not mean we either deny its reality, or simply get rid of it with the right formula. Instead we want to stand steadfast in faith regardless of whether or not the pain can be relieved or not. A big test of faith is simply to remain in it in bad times and good.

Pain can be a blessing because God may be bringing something to our attention that needs prayer and simply being present. Ultimately since we’re in Christ, pain should not be seen as threatening. It is a part of this life. Scripture tells us that someday all pain will be gone, but not in this life. Until that time, let’s accept the inevitable, and in faith and prayer find what is helpful in it. Above all, finding God’s presence and help through it. In and through Jesus.

in this rubble

We heard of the terrible, heart breaking tragedy of a young mother who struggled with mental illness, first shooting her children, an eight year old girl who was a good reader, a rambunctious six year old girl, and a two year old boy who was a smiler, before taking her own life. A year ago she had sought help for mental illness.

We live in a world of heart breaking tragedy. It usually happens on less dramatic levels, but telling in lasting ways for those involved. I can make no sense out of it. There is a part of me which wants to question God like the prophets of old, and other places we find in Scripture such as the Psalms and Job.

It is a sad fact of the matter that we live in a world in which there is insanity with unspeakably horrific consequences. There’s no escape from that. Common grace, called such because God gives it to all humanity keeps it from being worse.

I can only lament over such tragedy. And at the same time believe that God is somehow present through it all.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis

I can only go back to God and to the cross of Christ as the hope through which I carry on and live. That somehow in the end God will sort through this mess. That even now God is at work in redeeming what is in bondage, putting together what is broken, bringing beauty into the ugliness of this world.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s our own sin and yes, evil, that brings in a world of hurt. But that God stepped into this world, fully taking that hurt on himself on the cross. With the promise of resurrection. In and through Jesus.

someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.


Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

facing our pain

Pain tells us there’s a problem. Physically that’s a blessing. When people can’t feel pain, they live in danger. No signals to warn them of something either chronic or acute, and possibly threatening. The same is true with us spiritually. We may feel immense pain. As one of our pastors has taught us, that’s always a time to stop and ask the Lord to reveal to us what we need to understand from him. It may end up being something of our own patterns of life which do us or no one else any favor. Or God may want to reveal to us his way for us, in Jesus. Indeed, “the everlasting way.” It must be God who does this.

The prayer of examen is fitting here:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

writing out of pain

Sometimes my writing and sharing comes from personal pain. That can be a problem, indeed as one book title puts it: Hurt People Hurt People. I have witnessed the culture of people talking about others by name in a downgrading fashion, even if there’s truth in what they’re saying. Who of any one of us would want our lives held up to unrelenting scrutiny? I have lived with pain most all my life, inward pain. People have answers, and often there’s important truth in them I do well to heed. But I can’t control directly the pain I carry.

I try to lay low, to keep my pain to myself. There are very few I can share with, be honest and open to. My wife is certainly one of them, and fortunately she does not carry that burden herself. She helps me bear my burden through prayer primarily, as well as through words of truth.

I dislike living this way, but I have done so for decades now, and though I do experience times of God’s felt presence in love and peace, quite often I am in some kind of low grade chronic sense of sorrow and inward pain. This in no way absolves me from the call to rejoice in the Lord, to be glad in him. Yes, the joy of the Lord is indeed our strength. I’m sure I need to grow in that area. At the same time I think I can say to some small extent with the Apostle Paul, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Of course a good portion of scripture is written out of pain. Jeremiah is a classic case in point. And many of the psalms. Jesus himself lived through much pain out of love. A big part of the meaning of his Passion meant suffering for us in drinking the cup his Father gave him for the salvation of the world.

For me it’s important to accept this as part of my life. It is where I am, honestly. Out from that I can grow, and maybe leave some parts of this behind. Yet I think my heart will never be too far from pain, indeed in a true sense I hope not. If we can’t weep with those who weep, and identify with people in their suffering, if we can’t live in our weakness with a growing sense of need for being dependent on God through Jesus, so that we indeed readily know our need of continual grace from God- then we’re missing the boat.

At the same time, I’d just as soon leave this seemingly wilted existence entirely behind. It is most certainly a trial. I certainly haven’t learned what Paul learned, to delight in my weaknesses that Christ’s power might rest on me.

I’m glad God is at work in Christ to redeem everything, including our inward sufferings. I look forward to the day when somehow this will all be left behind. It would be good to really have others who could help carry my burdens at times. I think I can be a burden to others, so I try to keep to myself. But I’ve been amazed at how just the right word at the right time has been so helpful for me. I just don’t think we do community well as Christians. So I’ve learned not to expect much. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve helped that cause oftentimes. Those who are hurt tend to withdraw, and I’m sure the same has been the case with me.

We press on, even in our weakness and sorrow. Knowing that every step is dependent on God through Jesus. And hopefully we will learn to do this together. In Jesus for the world.

life goes on

We urgently are in prayer over the disasters happening in Japan through the earthquake. And there are so many tragedies all over the world, even in our neighborhoods. Along with that, we face challenges which at times seem overwhelming. We are in over our heads, in fact the world is in over its head. Except for one thing.

God is Sovereign. We can rest assured in Jesus, knowing that even here and now, someday to be made evident and wondrously clear: Jesus is Lord over all. Because of that we can trust that no matter what, it will all turn out well and good in the end. The world/ creation is going through the groans along with the Spirit’s groans in us, as we await the full redemption when in Jesus all is made new. But the new in Jesus is already at work in this world in the midst of all the sorrow and pain. Yes, even in the face of evil.

Life goes on. God is at work in Jesus in ways we can and cannot understand. The Book of Job certainly comes to mind when I think of life in this world. It is a text and narrative, indeed a story which gets to the heart of something vital in trying to understand, or better put, simply live and live even well with all the uncertainties and mortality of this world. That Book is important, but we need the entire Book of God’s word when we seek to think through this.

We groan now along with creation and in those groans are the Spirit’s groans in us in Jesus. Which in themselves are part of God’s work here and now shaping salvation in this world. We begin to understand more and more that this is a vital part of our existence in this world. To live in groanings and longings by and in sync with the Spirit in us. As God begins making the old new through Jesus. A part of what the season of Lent means.

And so we learn to listen and see God’s Hand at work even through our listening and prayers. In the lives of those around us, and in the life of this world. As we await the complete fulfillment of God’s kingdom that has come in Jesus.

God is thorough

It may take some time for us to get used to this; we are as a rule slow learners that God really means what he says as in his word/scripture. We read passages like the following:

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5

God is a god of grace, but it’s a grace which leads us on into all of his will in Jesus. I am aware in my own life how with all my being I want to hold on to certain things, some not bad, and sometimes I know better. God as our loving Father knows how to get our attention and yet we are equally adept at screening God out. Or including him along with our own agenda, in our plan.

It’s either all or nothing with God, but God works in us patiently, and painstakingly over time, even over our lifetimes, toward what is really good, away from our own hellbent way, into his heavenly kingdom way in Jesus.

I find this to be the case in my own life, in explicit ways now, that grip my attention. God indeed does scream at us in our pain (C.S. Lewis: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.'” The Problem of Pain).

We will “cut to the chase” much better, that is find the true end for living and for our lives, if we just hang in there, seeking to be fully attentive, and attuned to the process. We won’t understand much of it at the time probably, but at least we can have faith that God is doing something. And of course we frame God’s will in words, words from God concerning the reality of which he speaks.

I’m not much fond of what I’m going through at the moment, but in the long scheme of things, and in the big Story, I can be assured that it is for my good, for God’s glory, and hopefully for the blessing of others in Jesus, as we live out together God’s calling for us through Jesus in this world.