Tag Archive: Pain

I can’t believe it!  It’s raining.  We haven’t seen substantial rain for some time.  Earlier today I  decided to walk around in it for a few minutes.  It felt so good.  

My lawn is happy.  I don’t like to throw money out the door, so I don’t water my lawn unless it really has to happen.  I was thinking about it this week till I looked at the weather report and saw the coming rain.  The brown will turn green soon.  Not for long, though, it’s going to go dormant soon.  

The temperature is a bit cooler as well.  This is going to cool things down a little bit.  Here it is two o’clock in the afternoon, and it’s only 74 degrees.  Compared to the long hot weather we have had all summer, this is heaven.  

Maybe our air-conditioning can catch a break.  I admit we keep our house pretty cool.  If we ever take a ride together, the air conditioning will be on.  I’m a naturally hot person.  I’m the kind of person that has to sleep with the fan on and one sheet or cover.  Meanwhile, my wife acts like we live in northern Montana.  She is naturally cold.  85 degrees is reason to put a sweater on.  She would wear a winter coat in the house if I let her.  

Some of my friends think this area of South Carolina is the hottest place they have ever been.  Sometimes it’s not really hot but humid.  The humidity drives the heat index up sometimes (more then a few times this summer) over 100 degrees.  I like to call summer in the Lowcountry “three shirt days.”  If anyone does anything outside, he or she will be changing shirts at least three times.  

However, this is not the hottest place I’ve been.  About 17 years ago, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Australia.  I went with a guy who was studying Biology, and he wanted to experience the different biomes of the island.  There are four different biomes in Australia, including a rainforest.  If you include the Great Barrier Reef, there are five biomes.  I have to admit, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef might be the most awesome experience I have ever had.  Ever!  

As we were traveling from Sydney to Darwin to see the rainforest, we missed our plane.  So we had to catch a flight out to Alice Springs and then on to Darwin.  Alice Springs is in the desert region.  When you go to Outback, check out the Alice Springs chicken.  I can guarantee you one thing.  There are no chickens in Alice Springs.  It’s too hot!  It is the only time in my 60 years that my shoes melted to the black top.  I am not exaggerating one little bit.  

We had a five-hour lay-over so we decided to go to a small park.  We didn’t stay long.  We didn’t want to die from heat stroke.  I’m not sure what the actual temperature was, but it was plum hot.  A graph on Google shows that it can get to 45 degrees Centigrade.  That is 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don’t care what anybody says.  113 is just way over the top.  I believe it was that hot when we were there in early January.  It might be winter in the USA, but it’s summer in the land down under.  

When I was much younger people shared Jesus with me.  Often I heard the question, “You don’t want to spend eternity in hell do you?”  Being a real young one I asked, “What is hell?”  The reply was often, “It’s fire and brimstone, very hot!”  No way did I want that.  Even when I was a young lad, I asked some questions that caught others off guard.  So I asked, “Is there air-conditioning in heaven?”  Let’s just say nobody answered that one immediately.  They probably thought I was hopeless.  

The Bible does talk about hell being a place of fire and brimstone.  The lake of fire is the picture we have of the second death (eternal punishment).  In Matthew 25, hell is described as being a place of darkness.  I can remember a pastor trying to correlate a dark hell with fire.  Sometimes we try too hard.  

Hell is without question a place of severe pain.  There is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s a place described as being one of death and destruction.  One guy who is condemned to hell asks for a drop of water to sooth his parched tongue.  Again, we have an idea that it is hot.  But, is this reality or actuality?

It was not until I was much older that I came to understand that hell is the absence of God.  God is the essence of all things good, pure, and holy.  Heaven is being in the presence for eternity.  Not a jot or tittle of evil will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

So hell, therefore, is the opposite of heaven.  There is not the jot or tittle of goodness.  Therefore, instead of living in the spirit of love, those who do not follow Jesus will live in the spirit of hate and death.  Often somebody will tell me they don’t mind going to hell.  They will be there with their friends.  I don’t think so.  I see it more as a place of total isolation, tormented by all that is evil.  Forget hot!  The absence of God will make the heat of Alice Springs seem like a cool bath.  The Bible describing hell as hot is the only way they could describe misery that all would understand.  

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Jesus, light and life are guaranteed.  All he says to do is follow.  We don’t have to wait for relief.   

I remember having kidney stones several years ago.  There I was at three o’clock in the morning groveling on the bathroom floor begging my wife to take me to the hospital.  I thought I either had appendicitis or was dying.  Death would have been the better option at the time.

They tell me a kidney stone is the closest thing to having a baby.  If that is so and I will believe it to be then I gained much appreciation for the female species that day.  Not only that but God must have made having children real special.  To forget that pain and birth more than one has to be a gift from God.

Once I passed the stone I was amazed.  I was amazed that something so small could cause so much pain.  When they told me I had kidney stones at the hospital I imagined a bolder in my body.  Once it came out, I was disappointed that a stone the size of a sand pebble was the cause.  Just goes to show you how wonderfully we are made.  

I haven’t had a bad attack since.  A few kidney pains came and went over the years.  I figured they were small stones that didn’t need a lot of attention.  That was until we were away recently on a long weekend vacation celebrating our granddaughters eleventh birthday at Disney World.  It wasn’t a three o’clock attack.  This time it waited till four a.m.  I knew what it was as soon as I turned over.  Welcome back you little devils.  I didn’t want to wake everybody up, nor did I want to worry anyone.  Mitigate the pain.  Drink lots of water and keep walking.  That would do it.  Only the room was not big enough to walk.  So…outside I went.  Guess what?  There are not very many people moving around, even at Disney, at four a.m.  They is sleeping. 
It took about three and a half hours for the pain to become bearable.  We will have to wait to see how long it takes to have this bolder pass.  Now to drink as much water as possible.  Hopefully, it won’t take too long and sleep will be possible tonight.  

I believe I have found the reason for pain in our lives especially the life of a believer.  It’s clear in the Holy Bible that suffering is associated with the life of a follower of Jesus.  The prosperity teaching is a lie.  Comfort is addictive.  Often when we are too comfortable in this life, we become myopic.  We live to protect the comfort we have created.  That does not gel with the Biblical teaching.

Pain connects us.  As I walked around and around the hotel I became suddenly aware of things and people around me.  I also began to think of others who suffer.  As I thought of them there was only one thing to do.  Pray.  

The true connection in our world is not through happiness.  Here I was in the happiest place on earth, andI was miserable.  As I looked around, I saw children who had been out in the hot too long being dragged kicking and screaming to the next thing the parents believed will bring them happiness.  I saw wheelchairs and handicap scooters with people who struggled to smile since they are limited.  Happiness is relative, and pain is very real.

There is a verse in Proverbs that basically says, “Don’t sing songs to a heavy heart.”  Why?  Our thirst for happiness in the state of a broken heart only brings more dread.  As I think of my physical pain, my mind wanders to those who suffer emotional pain.  They hide their suffering with a smile and a hearty handshake.  But, their pain is oozing out of them, often behind closed doors.  

Those suffering from clinical depression often can’t get out the front door.  When they do, it’s a struggle to paint a smile, be joyful and sing songs.  They are suffering no differently than my kidneys.  I want to just cut it out.  They often want to end their lives.  

The suicide rate continues to move steadily upwards in our society.  We look around and wonder what drives someone to do such a deed.  It’s their suffering in a world that often does not allow them to suffer.  Recently, a mega-church senior pastor took his own life ,leaving many to wonder.  I’m sure some asked the age-old question, “Was he a true believer?”  Sure he was.  He had reached a point of no return.

A wise teacher once told me, “Everybody has a breaking point.  You don’t know what and when they will get there.”  I have found in seventeen years of counseling ministry the one relative factor is their sense of loneness.  Don’t kid yourself.  They can have a ton of people around them just like I had thousands walking past me at the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs.  But, do they have any idea of the pain?  

I have had a lot of people ask me how to reach their neighbor or their community.  I believe Jesus showed us.  He connected with people.  He connected with their pain and suffering.  But, he had an answer.  A daily relationship with the Lord is the only answer.  So, why does a minister end his life?  When the fellow believers only want to judge their faith by how much joy they have.  We are missing the boat.  A friend of mine told me once to go out and find the “need” or “pain” in our community and find ways to address it.  I’ve been trying to do so for 14 years. Maybe next week I start the Kidney Stone support group.  Don’t laugh too hard.  You might be next.  

I do love golf.  There is only one problem.  Golf does not love me.  

As a young adult, I could pull out the clubs and shoot in the 80’s and not blink twice.  I never took the game super seriously, so getting down to par (around 72) was probably not going to happen.  Shooting in the 80’s would work for me.  Most of the guys I played with struggled to break 100.  They would get very irritated when winter ended and the golf courses opened.  Here I show up and shoot an 84 while they tried their hardest to not take an “8” and break the hundred barrier.  In those days I loved the game and the game loved me.

That all changed in an instant.  I was playing flag football.  I was the quarterback and driving for a score.  Instead of pulling my flags, the big guy on the opposing team two-handed touched me right in the middle of my chest summersaulting me backwards.  Did you know that when a quarterback throws the ball ,his opposite arm and hand flies behind him?  Yeah, I didn’t either.  It does.  I figured it out when I got up from the hard hit and grabbed my wrist.  My arm was in the right place only my palm was up when it should have been down.  The wrist was a mess. Little did I know at that point but my arm had a splinter break of the bone.  It was going to be a long recovery.

The doctor wanted to operate.  He said the bones would not line up, and I would lose power in my left wrist.  I have a personal philosophy.  If you don’t have to cut open the body…don’t.  I told him to set it and let it go.  He warned me I would not be hitting homeruns as a softball player and ,if I played golf, there was going to be a slice.  He wasn’t kidding.  Instantly ,I had a banana slice.  

About the only fun I had with it was setting up for the slice with someone I never golfed with.  They would interrupt me when they noticed I lined up far left.  I told them to take a video.  They were about to see some amazing golf.  I figure I can hit the ball 300 yards.  The only problem is it travels 150 yards straight and 150 yards to the right.  

No use losing any sleep over it all.  I will never win the Master’s tournament.  Golf doesn’t put food on my table.  I’ll live.  Lately, with the help of my friend Bob Jarrell, I’ve been able to get the boomerang under control.  At least I can enjoy the game some.  

Today, I got in nine holes over at Okatie Creek.  I didn’t hit the ball all that bad.  I didn’t hit it all that good either.  I was disappointed.  Last week I shot a 44 on the back nine and was hoping good things were ahead.  

My friend noticed I was peeking.  In case you don’t know the game of golf, that’s when you lift your head and don’t keep it down with your eyes focused on the ball.  It’s hard to hit a good shot when you are not looking at the ball.  It’s a common golfers error.  An old friend said to “spit” where the ball once sat after you hit the ball.  He laughed, “That will keep your head down.”  Well, I wasn’t spitting today, and my head was all over the place.  

My buddy asked me if I knew why we pull our heads.  I answered, “We want to see where the shot went.”  He laughed once again.  “Nope,” he said with a smile.  He continued to educate me, “It’s our pride.”  It didn’t take long to admit he was right.  We want to admire our own shot instead of letting our playing partner follow the trajectory.  

We talked some more.  It’s like life actually.  Our pride takes our focus off the important things of life.  Those being God and our loved ones.  We don’t let things pan out as they should.  Each of us wants control.  So instead of spending some time in the Word of God ,I’d rather pull my head out of it and plan my day without being reminded God is in control.  Instead of focusing on my family, I’ll just hope they can catch up with me.  When they don’t, tempers flair.  Meanwhile, I miss connecting with them on an intimate, caring level.  

Just like golf, we blame everything else.  Let’s see, I’ve blamed the clubs, the turf, the ball, the lie, the weather, the grip, and the golf course.  There is a common denominator.  ME!  

When we focus on everything other than the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we are bound to get in some sort of trouble.  The sand traps of life are hard to miss when our heads are looking all around.  

We all have  some form of Attention Deficit Disorder.  Thank you Jesus our faith is not dependent upon us.  Instead, our faith is made whole by the one who kept his focus as he journeyed to the cross.  Our hope is indeed Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  I just wonder one thing.  Can Jesus hit a one iron?  I can’t, even with my head down.

Last week I introduced the concept of being a healing Christian, ministry and church. Since my buddy Dwayne informed me he wanted to “heal” in 2019, “healing” has been coming up over and over again.

Remember, I’m not talking about physical healing.  It is more of a healing that comes from the inside out.  With that in mind, Jesus didn’t separate the body, mind and soul.  He actually kept the three together since they are so vitally linked together.  Let’s face it.  If the body hurts, our mind and soul will hurt.   If our mind is constantly depressed or preoccupied, our body and soul will suffer.  If our soul is sour what makes us think the other two won’t be?  Jesus kept the three together since we are such a delicate creation.  

We do not believe in Jesus to get an easy life.  If that were sound theology, then the poor apostles were given a bum deal.  They all died a horrible death except for John.  Even with John, it is believed he was placed in boiling water and later exiled to the island of Patmos.  At that time there were no resorts on the island.  It was a hard life.  

Paul, the apostle, in Second Corinthians says we suffer so we can minister to fellow sufferers.  Our world says we should not have to suffer.  They are wrong.  This world is suffering.  I have yet to meet anyone who has not had to suffer real pain in this life.  There is the pain of broken bones and surgery.  The pain that sears the soul is broken relationships, betrayal, abandonment and lies.  Best friends can be the worst friends.  Family pain is brutal.  Our bones will heal.  Our bodies will mend.  But our minds and souls hurt for a lifetime.

Recently, I came across a lady who though no fault of her own experienced the death of a child.  While functional, she could not get the feelings of guilt and failure out of her heart.  She will probably die a broken person.  Now here is where we have to take a hard look.  What is faith in Christ at this point?

Some will say the broken lady does not have enough faith.  Some might say she has a false impression of who Jesus really is.  Others might say she never had faith.  I talked to her.  Without question she believed and believes in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, what is the problem?  Does she not pray enough?  No, she prays daily.  Does she not read the Bible?  Nope, she does.  Did she quit on the church?  Every Sunday she is there.  So, what’s the problem?  She is a human being, just like you and me.

Sunday is not a day to put on a front like we have it all together.  Quite the opposite.  It should be a place where broken people can come and find their hope and healing in Jesus.  It is a healing that takes a lifetime.  

This gets us down to what it means to be a soul healer.  First and foremost we must embrace the human condition.  It has been a long time since I have come across anyone that doesn’t have a sense that we are broken.  I once had an on going conversation with a psychology teacher.  In the middle, he asked if I was a Christian.  Of course I responded in the affirmative.  I asked him how he figured it out.  He replied, “You know something is broken, and we have not come up with the solution.”  I asked him if he could give an answer to the human sin issue.  He replied, “No, and all our science fails to answer it as well.”  Of course it does.  What’s broke is broke.  

I don’t have to point out brokenness when someone comes for counsel as a believer or a non-believer.  Moral goodness is relative.  When brought under the microscope of God’s holiness, we are in big trouble.  We know it.  Our own arrogance doesn’t want to acknowledge it especially in this critical culture.  

While it seems like a hopeless condition there is healing.  It isn’t healing that takes away the pain or the memory.  Not at all.  Actually pain is a great reminder of the need.  That’s the problem with great prosperity.  We can insulate ourselves from brokenness to some extent.  It causes us to avoid the truth.  Once realized, the healing is the ability to get up the next day and find a new normal.  

Jesus never promised the same old, same old.  No, the gospel says there is a new beginning.  We take with us the scars and yet-to-be-fixed brokenness and find a new normal based on the hope and the truth that God allowed us to suffer to bring healing to someone else.  In the meantime, we can get out of bed the next morning since we are in the hands of the Lord Jesus who gave us the example of suffering to bring healing.

How do we get out of bed?  Dependent upon grace that God has already granted us and the grace we turn around and give to fellow sufferers.  A healing church allows God to do what God does instead of rescuing the hurting and becoming their little “s” savior.  To do that involves truly walking in the Spirit.  Love the unlovable.  Have joy in the rain and the sun.  Be peace among the chaos.   Exercise patience. Practice meekness to conquer the self-serving pride.  Be kind.  A gentle touch heals a bitter wound.  Encourage self-control for the hurting,  as they tend to hurt others in their suffering.    

To heal we rest on God’s path and timing.  In the meantime, let’s walk together.  My name’s John.  What’s yours?  I have a story and I would love to hear yours. 

We sat across from each other discussing various facts and philosophies of life.  We meet weekly, sharing ideas and thoughts with great freedom.  As we sat there I asked what I thought was a simple question.  “What is your dream?”  He surprised me with his answer, and then he knocked me out with his question.  He asked me, “Are you living your dream?”

I wanted to lie.  But I resisted.  “Honestly,” I began, “No I am not living my dream and my dream is closely connected to my calling.”  I began to tell him my story that I would like to share with you.

I didn’t go into ministry till I was close to 40 years old.  I do not consider what I do a job.  In fact, I have had a lot of heated discussions with fellow ministers over the topic.  We are called.  Money should be the last question not the first one.  Once a minister looks at his position as a job, he loses the calling.  I believe the calling to be serious and important.  

I spent my first few years in youth ministry.  For some reason, I was either attracted to the “least of these” (Matthew 25) or they were attracted to me.  Since I spent my first career in education and business, I think I do not approach ministry like the professional pastor.  Anyway, the attraction to the troubled, non-church kids created problems.

The church I was at actually started an alternative Sunday school class and youth group for the church kids.  They didn’t like their kids hanging out with gang members, those with bad reputations, drop-outs, and others that tend not to be welcome in the local church.  It’s kind of funny if you think about it.  If we understand the Christian faith, it is the Christian who should be impacting the world instead of the world impacting the church.  Amazingly, we believe that, but practicing it is a different story.

Let’s just say the conflict caused constant friction.  One elder told me he liked me but not the kids I attracted.  I asked him if he knew any of the kids he was talking about.  He replied, “No, I don’t.”  With my blood boiling, I probably said some things I should not have.  I regret that.  Grace for the wayward is grace for the Pharisee.  I learned that over the years.  I think.

Anyway, it reached a point I decided I wanted to reach people the church tends to miss.  We tend to miss modern day lepers.  It isn’t necessarily the fault of the Christian.  Lepers struggle to find comfort in the church as well.  It’s not about blaming anyone.  It’s about taking steps to touch the lives of those who seldom get touched by the redeemed.

In this short version, let’s just say it is with this desire I ended up in South Carolina instead of sitting comfortably in Maryland.  God provided a way and eventually a church that wanted to reach the unreachable as well.  The stories are incredible.  I wish I had the room to tell a few.  They include federal inmates, adulterers, single parents, the homeless, addicts, the mentally ill and more.  Their stories are not mine.  I have no right to tell them.  All I can say is I’m the lucky one, if there is such a thing in the Christian faith.  I get to see God at work in places most people don’t even get to see.  I get to see love, grace, and mercy win the day.  

Now, this is where the dream can disappear.  Let’s be honest.  The situation in Maryland is the battle all churches face along the line.  Instead of givers we become takers.  The needs, often assumed instead of real, move outreach into in-reach.  Often it’s hard to see.  We wake up one day and realize we spend most of our ministry time inside the church walls and very little outside.

Lives cease to change and we somehow role into making the parishioners happy instead of challenging them to forfeit themselves for the sake of others.  When we focus inwardly, our contact with those whom we tend to miss diminishes greatly.  And we wonder why church growth ceases and we lose our voice in the community.  

I’m there right now.  So my answer about living my dream is honest.  I spend most of my time with fellow Christians who struggle to admit their sin, brokenness and pain and have less and less contact with the truly broken and hurting.  Church people hide their issues. The only difference I can see between a Christian and a non-believer is God’s grace of which I am the most unworthy but the most fortunate.

  It is nobody’s fault but my own.  The prophet Jeremiah never got off point as he ministered to a people that wanted compromise and feel good ministry.  He held the line.  He rested in the promises of God instead of the desires of the people.  I have to make some changes.  Not because I have to.  It’s my calling.  Anybody want to join me?  

Every other Sunday night you can find me at the movies enjoying the latest flick with my good friends and son-in-law.  I love the big screen.  I remember my first movie.  My mom took me to the Hollywood movie theater in Arbutus, Maryland.  I saw the 1st Star Wars movie at the Timonium Drive-In with my best friend and girlfriend, who I eventually  married.  It rained.  That didn’t matter.  It was Star Wars.  

I love to look for the gospel in the movies.  There is a book titled, “How the Movies Helped Save My Soul.”  Hollywood might not ever realize how much it presents the grand story of redemption.   It’s all over the place.  My daughter hates to go to the movies with me.  She just wants to be entertained.  She thinks I’m plumb crazy.  She is right.

Last week we saw the movie “Skyscraper.”  It was a totally unrealistic action adventure movie staring Dwayne Johnson, “The Rock.”  It was like watching an old Diehard movie only instead of Bruce Willis we, get the new version with “The Rock.”  The good guys win in the end.  Or should I say the good guy wins in the end.  

Anyway, for some reason this one, along with the previews, affected me in a way I did not expect.  I was suddenly attuned to the amount of violence that is coming our way via the Big Screen.  It wasn’t just the violence; it’s the level it’s being taken.  There is a line that is getting dimmer and dimmer between fantasy and reality.  That line is red.  

I’m not an end all violent games and movies type of person.  I have played plenty of video games and I tend to think I’m not a violent person.  Or am I? Violence does not have to be full of guns, blood and death. Violence can come in many forms.  

In the Old Testament when Noah is told to build an ark, Genesis 6:11 reads, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.”  The word corrupt in this context means “to spoil or disfigure.”  The word violence has the overriding connection of a “loss of respect for life.”  Basically, life under the auspices of God had become disfigured and there was a total loss of respect for any living human being and probably creature.  

What happens when there is a total loss of respect for our neighbor?  It might not mean murder  and mayhem (at times it does), but, it means wishing and perpetrating harm and pain on someone for your own gain.  We might not be wielding a gun or knife but we may be living in a way that is so self-consumed we are not even aware of the pain we are inflicting on those around us.  An inability to be concerned for someone else defines a lack of respect. 

In our world we are seeing a widening gulf between opposite opinions, beliefs and philosophies.  Instead of considering someone as I would consider myself (Philippians 2) we are more and more building ramparts that separate and divide.  It’s happening in the name of Jesus leaving many confused, disillusioned and hurt.

Most people who have left the church have left over a painful experience within the body of Christ.  We like to think they “backslide.”  Sure, a few walk away from the teachings of the Bible . Most, however, walk away due to someone in the name of Jesus elevating themselves slaying the soul of their brother or sister.  It happens more than one thinks.  It is violence with no blood.  

How does this happen?  Opinions are not allowed to be spoken especially if they are not prominent in the leadership circle.  People are not encouraged, they are expected to give their lives to the “body” without any support.  Ministries they love lose support to the next “new” and “cool” ministry.  People are not dealt with honestly for fear they may bolt.  They wilt and nobody notices.  

Somedays I wonder why anyone goes to church.  The younger generations are simply not going.  The retirement generation that moves away from their community is stopping as well.  When I talk to either one they tell stories of the pain they suffered and don’t want to experience it again.  

The Catholic Church had a campaign a few years ago that broadcast, “You can come home.”  I liked that one.  I wonder if any church is willing to confess it’s sin, be committed to true community and spend it’s dollars supporting the least of these instead of spending them making the wealthy more happy.  You can come home.  Do you want to?  Jesus talked about peace and unity.  The violence has to stop.  At all levels.

I limped into church today.  I shed a few tears as well.  As I stood up to lead in prayer, all I could see were people I’ve walked with the past 12 years and I know their limp.  Sometimes our limp becomes us.  Like Jacob in the Old Testament.  God touched his hip, and he limped the rest of his life.  God does that.  He causes us to limp so we can slow down and know him.  We tend to want to take the lead instead of follow.  

I was reading an article the other day that talked about hurting Christians.  The author must limp as well.  He points to four elements that often leave us far from the spiritual high that others seem to relish.  The four characteristics that suck the life out of us are: isolation, loneliness, shame and worthlessness.  Often all four are a result of sin that finds us.  Other times we have no problem finding it on our own. 

It’s hard to think that in our current world we might struggle with isolation or loneliness.  To me they’re kissing cousins of the evil world.  We don’t need demon possession in our world.  Isolation and loneliness are evil’s best friends   

Church can often promote isolation and loneliness.  One time when you limp into church and someone asks, “How are you today?,” tell them.  For some reason we have this idea that Christians are not supposed to have issues much less sin issues.  When the body of Christ gathers, it should be a safe haven for those who limp.  Unfortunately, the local bar is the only safe haven.  In church you can call yourself a sinner; just don’t say what kind.  

When someone unloads his or her burdens, the kissing cousin of loneliness tag teams with isolation.  I’ve often pointed out that Jesus indeed answers our needs.  What we have failed to learn is that the Holy Spirit resides in believers.  It is through believers that he moves and his Holy Spirit flows.  We are the conduit for the power of God.  If we don’t answer the need of the limping, hurting brother or sister somebody or something else will.  

I honestly believe the main reason churches are struggling to keep people in the pews is their inability to care well for the limping, weary traveler on the path of life.  We have decided to choose, as a friend of mine who struggles to get out of bed every Sunday morning calls it, “a faith defined by unicorns and rainbows.”  As a friend asked this week, “Doesn’t Jesus want me to be happy?”  “Yes,” I answered, “but only by walking in the ways of the Lord as defined by the Holy Scriptures.”  Let’s just say he left quickly.  

Limping into church often lets others know we are suffering.  Since we learned nobody wants to be around suffering anymore (Apostle Paul said it’s the way into the kingdom of God) each limp sends impulses of shame to the heart.  Surely, if no one else is limping, something is wrong with us.  I asked that this morning, “What’s wrong with me?”  Maybe I’m not walking with the Lord.  Maybe I’m depressed.  Maybe I’m not praying enough.  Maybe I’m too serious.  Maybe I’m this.  Maybe I’m that.  Maybe.  Maybe.  Since no one wants to connect with the limp or tears, you know what that shame will do next week?  Keep us in bed.  

Eventually, as we wallow in our pain, worthlessness will take us to places we thought we would never go.  All four isolation, loneliness, shame and worthlessness – pounce on the wounded, leaving them paralyzed and numb.

A friend recently told me his mother died and he was absent from church for six weeks and not a soul called on him or showed up at the funeral.  He was on the path.  

Another soul talked about suffering the rejection by her friends due to a wayward husband.   There seems to be an unspoken fear of the single woman.  Instead of embracing the crippled woman, she is forced to limp in and out.

Jesus told his disciples a story.  He said there was a king who was having a banquet.  He invited the expected guests; the ones who usually attend a king’s banquet.  Only they had plenty of excuses.  So the king told his disciples to go out into the highway and byways and invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” to his banquet.  I found out today in Luke 14 that there is nothing wrong with my limp.  There is nothing wrong with your limp either.  Line up the wheelchairs and the crutches next Sunday.  The crippled are coming to the banquet! Worship well!  We got the invite.

“Where is God?”  “Why me?” These two questions permeate our lives when things go wrong.  Not just when they go wrong.  It’s when they go miserable.  This past week I lost a friend.  He was fine.  Suddenly he is sick.  Hospitalized.  Things go way wrong, and, the next thing one knows he is gone.  He was too young.  We look up to the heavens and ask the two questions looking for a reasonable answer.  We probably won’t get it.  At least we won’t get one that satisfies.

I could give a sound Biblical answer.  Most Christians know the theology behind death.  But there remains this little piece of us that would like to know what went wrong.  We are not satisfied with what went right.  Each and every one of us, even though we know it’s not true, thinks God should grant us long life and blessings.  I hear it all the time, “Have a blessed day.”  I wish we could put that one to rest.  We are already blessed according to Ephesians 1.  We’ve been granted all of them already!  What more do we want?  We want to be in control of the blessings.  It doesn’t work that way.

We can’t seem to get our hands around the idea that Jesus left the comfort of heaven to rescue man.  The minute he left the Father, he was suffering.  The suffering reaches a crescendo when the Father veils himself in the last three hours while his Son hung on the cross, bearing our sin.  Jesus cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!”  It is the way of true redemption.

Yes, the hurt and pain does feel like we have been abandoned and forsaken.  Yet, as Scripture so adequately says, “Joy comes in the morning.”  Joy comes when we see beyond our vision.  My friend will not have to suffer any longer in this world.  As the Word also says, “Absent from the body; present with the Lord.”  We are not cheated in his death, and neither is he.  We along with my friend are given a few years.  What’s 10 or 20 more in relation to eternity?  Our death is not the end.  It’s only the beginning.   

The joy that comes in the morning is not so much thinking we will see each other again.  The joy is to know my friend is safe and secure in the presence of the Lord Jesus.  Can anyone imagine what it will be like to be so safe and secure in the presence of all good?  There is no evil in the presence of Jesus.  None!  There is no depravity allowed in.  The reason we (depraved for sure) can be in His presence is the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.  His grace is sufficient.  Why?  It’s all we need.  

We who are left behind will wonder why he didn’t get to see his grandchildren grow up.  He won’t be there when his kids need that fatherly advice.  His wife will miss his presence in the night.  To this day, I miss my father-in-law.  I mainly miss his smile.  He was always smiling.  I think the world could have been coming to a literal end, and he would still be there smiling.  I hate Parkinson’s Disease.  It stole his smile before it stole him.  Yes, we are still bound by this earth, but he is free.  

Jesus, very early in his ministry said, “Blessed are they who mourn…”  I used to wonder about that one.  I finally realized mourning shows great love.  We do not mourn those we do not love.  We do not mourn those who bear our anger and bitterness.  Mourning shows a great life, a great family, and a great God.  He promised the mourners comfort, that only God can grant.  It’s a comfort that knows the truth and looks into the future. 

“Where is God?”  He is right there in front of all of us.  That is where the Shepherd takes his place, guiding His sheep along the weary paths of life.  He didn’t leave us.  He can’t.  In fact, Jesus said when we go our own way, He will come and find us.  We don’t find Him.  He comes and gets us.  Amazing…I don’t think any other religious practice has a God coming to rescue his wandering sheep.  He’s where he promised to be.  

“Why me?”  I’m sorry but we all must go through the fire.  We aren’t there yet.  My friend is, but we are not.  So instead of wondering what God is doing, we turn to a little book in the back of the New Testament titled Titus.  The Apostle Paul wrote to him and answered his questions.  He wrote, “Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  When that occurs, many will be without a job.  No more health care.  No more doctors needed.  No health insurance to be purchased.  No more pain.  No more death.  

Not here but there.

Thank you Jesus you told us we could mourn our loved ones.  Thank you, Jesus, that we will be comforted with the One who suffered the cruelest of all.  Thank you, Jesus, that because of you, we don’t have to suffer for eternity.  Do you know my Jesus?  

Today’s article is dedicated in memory of my friend, David Marcy. 

This week, yes the week before Easter, has been a rough one. Overall I’m fine and I don’t mean “Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.” While some would say I’m probably one or more of these, none are over the top. It probably has something to do with the Holy Week and Easter being right around the corner.
Easter is supposed to be the celebration that brings hope to our hopelessness. It is to be the pinnacle to a season of reflection about our weaknesses and failures. Jesus conquering death, slapping the evil forces in the face with his resurrection, is to inspire and move believers to life. But for some reason I have been reminded that good news of the resurrection is not always perceived in such a way.
Here we are going to talk about life beyond the grave. Explain that to a 6 year old who stayed up all night with his sick guinea pig only to have it die the next morning. He doesn’t necessarily understand the abstract spiritual life. He has to process that his guinea pig that he loved and only had for one month is dead.
Then the phone rings and you find out a friend from your past at the age of 35 had pneumonia, passed a blood clot and died. Spiritual talk, Bible verses and trite sayings don’t necessarily sooth the mourning soul. Proverbs says “Don’t sing song to a heavy heart.” The author of that one got it right. Sometimes we just sit and ask God, “Why?” We probably won’t get an answer we don’t already know.
The pains and sorrow so life won’t go away this week. We remember the Holy Week for the sufferings Jesus went through to pour out his grace upon mankind. I agree 100%. It is soothing to the soul to know the God I put my rest upon understands the thoughts and feelings that plague us.
A reader sent me an email a few weeks ago. He was talking about the hurt in his life. As I sit this morning trying to be encouraged in the resurrection of our Lord the song he sent to me in his email hits home. It’s the song, Grace by Rachel Platten. I’m not ready to have someone screaming at me “He is Risen” Sunday morning expecting the response “He is risen indeed.” Instead we need the soft voice of a Savior who says “my grace is sufficient.”
There is not enough space to publish the words of the entire song. It can be found on Youtube. Consider a few words:
Is this what I’ve become? Someone who gets jealous of someone?
Instead of open arms and honest praise, I’m closing doors and pushing love away
When did I come undone? When did the colors of my canvas start to run?
I can’t control the teardrops on my face, I know this ain’t the girl my mother raised
I used to wear love like an army I used to know nothing could harm me
Now fear got up all in my head, I’m all in my head, And I made a mess, I confess, I’m ashamed
Chorus: And I need grace To step inside my mind, help me be a better person
Or at least a better version of me, ’Cause right now, all I wanna do is scream
That I need grace,’Cause I’m running low on faith
And I really wanna change my heart,’Cause I’m falling apart these days
And what I really need is grace,Watching over my mistakes
Yeah I really wanna change my heart,’Cause I’m falling apart these days
And what I really need is grace.
Thank you Paul for sharing your cry for God’s gift of grace.
This Sunday, Easter Sunday, I don’t necessarily remember the resurrection so I can sit around and wait to die and go to heaven. I remember the resurrection this year as a sign of the hope I have in Jesus and the pouring out of his grace when my faith is weak and as Rachel sang, “I made a mess and I’m ashamed.”
Now, I can softly say, “He is risen.”

Sitting at the table it was an opportunity to unload all of the burdens the exhausted man carried.  In just a few minutes the sins of the father, mother, brother and sister were poured out on the table like a glass of spilled milk.  If that wasn’t enough a few comments against fellow church members and the pastor were thrown in.  Last but not least it was time to pick on the spouse.  There were few gasps between sentences.  The listener from time to time would try to interject only to have the weary traveler on the path of life in front of him spew more.  So much for lunch.  With all the pain inflicted on the poor fellow it wasn’t worth eating.

As the story teller began to wind down it was clear he carried a lot upon his weary shoulders.  Expressions of regret etched across his face.  Tears would well up in his eyes ever so often when the pain was more then he could bear.  Betrayal was a common theme.  Lost friendships were a close second.  When loneliness prevails leaving each one of us defiant, scared and confused.

It hadn’t been that long ago when the fore lorn gentleman was walking down the hall way and the pastor grabbed him by the shoulders to express his gratitude.  His words were sincere but foundationless.  “I wish we had more families like yours in our church.  I could sure use them.”  The response was prophetic.  “Don’t wish that upon yourself.  You don’t know us all that well.  If you did, you would probably take those words back.”  The surprised pastor was left speechless.  If this was one of the good ones what do the bad ones look like.

Two years later and the family was in shambles, the pastor had been asked to leave and here the burdened disciple was weary from a lack of sleep and doing what every red, white and blue blooded American does (Christian or not) looking to blame everybody else for our problems.  On this day it was no different.  The new pastor could tell he was carrying immense baggage and needed an ear, if not more.

The minister took a bite out of his Subway Chicken Teriyaki sandwich and looked longingly at his new friend.  He wanted to choose his words wisely.  At this point it’s easy to placate the sufferer.  It’s easy to affirm their pain.  It’s easy to blame everybody else.  Surely somebody else is responsible for our sadness, bitterness and anger.

Instead of feeding the blame game the wise and patient man of the Word softly asked, “Are you aware of the pain you are causing those around you?”  Some readers may want to explode at this moment.  Some would think the pastor is mean and cruel.  He isn’t.  Instead he loved the man across from him and couldn’t leave him floundering in the actions and events of his past.  He needed to awaken him .

We can’t change a bit of the past.  One day in a recovery group a young lady stood up and said, “We are the only ones letting our abusers beat us up every day when the events happened years ago.”  We can’t change the hurt and pain from our past.  However, what we can do is look at it differently.

When we need surgery we don’t ask the doctor if there is a pain free method.  When things need changing pain is nearby.  The same goes for our emotional being as well as our physical being.  When the pastor asked about the pain his friend was causing he connected the pained friend to the reality that we are responsible for the pain we cause.  By being in connection with the pain we cause others we can discover that indeed Jesus was right on when he calls us to live by grace.  We live by grace to those who have offended us by realizing how many we have left offended in our wake.

The silence from the beaten down fellow was healing at the same time.  Something connected.  Somehow  he was connected to those who hurt him in seeing the hurt he has caused others.  Broken together allows grace to flow.  Healing grace.  The same grace that comes from a broken Savior who was broken and bled for our trespasses.  And he didn’t even complain.