Monday, January 30, 2017

When Pain Screams

When there's pain, it screams.” At best, it was a summary statement. Something to help make a point of a strategic discussion we were having about our ministry. Yet, I paused to ponder it. “When there's pain, it screams.” Now... to be honest, I probably didn't remember it correctly word for word. But it resonated deep within my soul.

In our culture it is easy to overlook deep pain. We see it clearly in the response to the protests. Rather than ask, “why are they so upset that they would devote time, energy, and emotion to this?” We say, "stop protesting" and "do it our way". When people are grieving, we can overlook their grief and give sharp rebuke for how they are missing things. We misdiagnose, misapply, and, I think if we are honest with ourselves, we are hasty to fix the “problems” so we don't have to deal with them anymore.

That's not to say that we should ignore sin or bad behaviors, but rather, recognize that when there is screaming, it's because there is often legitimate pain. And when there is legitimate pain, the initial need is not a correction in behavior. The need is to walk alongside, to empathize, and then fix our eyes on the God who is big enough to heal.

There are three things from the scriptures that have helped me as I think through dealing with pain:

1. It's ok to not have immediate “progress” → This is not to say that we shouldn't move through pain to deeper faith. Rather, it's ok if it's not on our timetable. Psalm 88 ends like this, “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” Why would the psalmist end there? Why isn't there any resolution? It just ends hopelessly.

I think it's because the psalmist understands that it's ok to be in a season of struggle, doubt, and sadness. It's not an ending of faithlessness, rather one that says, “I know that the Lord is with me even when I feel like all hope is lost.” The fact that's a song meant for praise and worship in the temple says so, because it's a communion with the Lord.

2. Know that Jesus cares about our circumstances → In Luke 8, we see Jesus heal a woman who was bleeding for 12 years. The implications are overwhelming. She's an outcast, would be outside the temple, and would have numerous societal disadvantages. Jesus allows her to come up from behind, hidden, for her to have healing. While Jesus exposes her later (to restore her hope further, by having true faith in Christ, not just her healing), He knows that this woman had little to no contact for 12 years, and the way He heals her is to let her touch Him. He begins to restore her circumstances, healing her, letting her touch Him, and even concealing her until the time was right. He cared not just about her salvation, but also her deeply traumatic circumstances.

3. Know that contentment comes by coming to God and seeing His Glory → The story of Job is a case study in misunderstanding suffering. Job loses everything and his friends blame his sin for the calamity that has befallen him. When God shows up (in chapter 38!), He doesn't rebuke Job's friends (yet), nor does He apologize for what has happened to him. He reminds Job of who HE is.

Where were you when I lad the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? (Job 38:4-5)

Job's response to the Lord is shocking. While his pain hadn't subsided, he finds an odd contentment in 42:6, saying he repents in dust and ashes. The note about his repentance is that it could also mean he is comforted. What comfort? It's the comfort of knowing more of the fullness of God, that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. And that even in the midst of the hardest storms, He is in control.

Pain is hard. Sometimes it feels uncontrollable. And that's ok. Be honest about your pain. And, if you're listening to someone in pain, don't judge. Ask. Understand. Care. Then look to Jesus, the one who went through the deepest pain. In Him, you will find the one who can perfectly understand, and in Him, you will find the God who will rock you to the core, leaving you comforted in the midst of any pain.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Three Resolutions for 2017

I have a long history of making New Year's resolutions.  And if you're anything like me, they often go strong for a couple weeks, maybe even a couple of months, and then are slowly forgotten.  However, it is good to set goals.  And I want to set goals again this year, but in a different way.  My hope is to target more root issues, and find good evidences to confirm that I have been addressing those root issues.  I hope that this is an encouragement to you all, and I will probably have more thoughts on each of these things throughout the year.

1.  Live a healthier lifestyle
This is a broad goal.  But I needed to make it such, because in years past, my goal was simply to lose weight.  Some years, this failed miserably, and others, I nailed it.  But as I'm getting older, I'm realizing that I not only want to lose a few pounds, but I want to change my eating habits so that I can have more energy throughout the day, and wisely plan to live a longer life (if the Lord allows).  This starts with what's on my plate, but also extends to exercising.  How will I do this?

- I will not give in to the fear of missing out of a food item when I go to a restaurant, and tell someone what I plan to order in advance
- I will seek to live within my calorie limits on my fitness app every day
- I will workout no more than 5 times a week, and no more than 60 minutes each time
- I will remind myself of the Gospel when I fail
- I will remember that God is the creator of every good and perfect gift, including all food and beverages.

There's a lot in here, some of which I am going to expound upon in future posts.  But the point is this:  I've often found that my whole day revolves around how many calories I can eat.  So I would have wild swings in how much I worked out, often trying to run enough so that I could eat a huge burger at Red Robin with countless refills of fries.  There's nothing wrong with running, and nothing wrong with Red Robin's huge burgers... except for the fact that too many of them will clog your arteries!  Instead, I want to remember that God gives limits and boundaries to actually give freedom, and be thankful for those boundaries.  I also want to remember that even grilled chicken and vegetables are blessings from God, and if I'm honest with myself, I really like them even though I often would rather pick the burger and fries.

There's also a fear of missing out, which I just don't need to give into.  More on that later.

2.  Spend More Time Thinking Strategically
If I'm not doing something, I can often wrestle with guilt.  But when I don't plan ahead and think about what I should do, I really wrestle with overworking, and then I end up not getting the most important things done, and I burnout.  Both of those are not honoring to Christ!

So, I want to spend more time each week thinking about my priorities as a Christian, husband, father, missionary, and member of my church.  Some of the things I hope to implement are:

- Spend at least a half hour planning out the week on Monday.  Once a month, take an hour to think through the month, evaluate priorities and goals, and help course correct
- Be involved in a small group and sunday school at my home church
- Do not miss date night.  Ever.  (unless somethin... NO, EVER)
- Take at least one day off each week, and do something to rest and re-energize my soul, this includes not answering my phone, not checking e-mail, and reading books that are non-ministry related.

One caveat: Obviously, if there is an emergency, I will miss date night.  But, how often do you and I feel like something is an emergency when it clearly is not? 

3.   Choose to pursue Jesus through prayer and His Word regularly and frequently, rather than other comforts
As I look around me, I find myself more desperate and dependent on the Lord than ever.  Yet I often don't come to Him until I feel deeply overwhelmed.  I frequently choose comforts, yet still end up overwhelmed.  I want to find rest for my soul, and so I want to remind myself that there is no greater rest that to rest in the person of Christ.

- Wake up each morning with Heather and spend time praying the Psalms together
- Listen to scripture during morning workouts
- Use car time and walking time to pray, rather than to listen to music
- Pray for people, situations, world events, and circumstances as they come to mind.

I'll elaborate more in future posts as to why these three things, but I am hopeful that this is an encouragement to you all.  It's good to desire good, Godly change in areas of our life.  And the New Year is a good opportunity to "reset."  However, my hope can not be in changing in these three areas.  In fact, my only hope to change at all rests in the power of the Spirit that dwells so richly in me.  And that only comes from believing the Gospel, that Jesus died so I could live, and walk in newness of life.  My prayer is that, even more this year, that I would walk more deeply with Him in grace and truth.   Would He empower you to do that as well.

Happy 2017!