The Survivor, the Sufferer, Guilt, and the Gospel

Ministry opportunities have carried me from tragic circumstances to tragedy. I’ve walked alongside desperate parents and grieving hearts. I’ve watched the healthy fall ill, and I’ve seen the worst of humanity and the horror of accidents. I’ve returned to my family to battle confusing feelings of guilt and shame. Some call it survivor’s guilt. It’s when a person feels guilty for surviving a tragic event. I believe it is present in the less recognized setting of ministry.

Thankfulness and guilt collide
Survivors have questions: Why has the Lord blessed/protected/healed them but not others? The survivor knows they are no better than the sufferer. Why did God, in His wisdom, decide for today that the survivor’s health would be intact or their family would be whole? Survivors are not afflicted in the same way or to the same capacity as the sufferer, but they nonetheless stagger under the weight of their questions. READ MORE

 

When reconciliation​ is not possible

Sticks and stones might break my bones, but name calling hurts too. Whoever penned the old rhyme that claims verbal abuse packs a smaller punch likely wasn’t called too many names.

Forgive and forget is another phrase perhaps spoken by some well-intentioned person. It all sounds good on paper but is so much harder in practice. What if the offender isn’t sorry, or worse, refuses to stop? What if the perpetrator is stuck in a pattern of sin that continues to hurt you? What if the culprit is dead and can’t be sorry?

No one wrote a rhyme about this.

These thoughts stir my soul and bring anger to a boil. It’s harder to forgive an unrepentant person. It’s harder to forgive when the world tells you that your anger is justified. It’s harder to forgive when it costs you so much. But forgiveness always comes at great cost.

Forgiveness isn’t free

“Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, than it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.”

~ Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the heart of the Christian faith.

Christ freely extends forgiveness, but it cost Him much. It wasn’t fair. It physically hurt, but he loved us too much to withhold it. He died for us while we continued to sin. Someone always pays for forgiveness.

This time that someone is me.

God has called me to set aside my rights and seek Him. He has asked me to do the hard work of cultivating a heart that forgives those who don’t know, appreciate, or understand how their actions have affected the people I love and me.

The beautiful truth

I can forgive someone who isn’t sorry because Christ forgave me. I didn’t deserve it back then when He died for all mankind, and I certainly don’t deserve it now. Yet, I’m forgiven.

The good news that brought me to a saving knowledge of Christ requires me to apply that good news to every moment of life. God can and will provide for my needs and answer my heart cry as I seek His face. Christ died for the sinner who wronged me and died for the sinner that is me. He loves us both.

We must work out our salvation in moments like these. We must turn toward God and repent of our bitter hearts and trust that He is all we need. As we do that, the anger, disbelief, and rage—yes rage—will lessen.

The kind of surrender God asks of His children isn’t a one time, say it right, get it right, never have to do it again deal. Trust me. I wrote a book about it. It’s ongoing. It’s a daily dying to self. It is a choice we make because we love Him because He first loved usThat makes today a good day to die to self for the glory of God. There is no right that I can surrender on earth that I will regret in glory.

Lord, may it be so.

 

 

When the wrong kind of excitement fills your summer

All the wrong kinds of excitement filled our July.

A child in distress. A young woman with a life-altering diagnosis. A virus spun out of control with the power to steal life. July brought everything into question.

But not the sovereignty of God or the certainty of His love.

Steadfast

Did you know the words “steadfast love” are found 191 times in the Hebrew Bible and 123 of those times occurs in Psalms?[i]

Jason Soroski, writer and worship leader, writes about steadfast love.

“Steadfast love is a unique covenant love that only God can give. It is a love that never changes, never fails. Always promised, always true… God not only practices steadfast love, but God IS steadfast love… It is a covenant promise that is only valid because it is a promise based on God’s character and faithfulness to keep His promises.”[ii] ~ Soroski

This is the love that we clung to throughout July.

Slide1

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43: 1b-3a

When tragedy strikes, it can feel like your drowning in fear and grief. When the illness flares the waters can feel overwhelming. When the virus is winning, the fire burns.

God never said there wouldn’t be trials. The waters will be deep. The river will swell, and we will walk through trials, BUT the children of the Lord will not be burned or consumed. Why? Because even if what you experience is more than you can handle, it is never more than God can handle. God’s steadfast love sustains you.

Great is His Faithfulness!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His love does not stop when tragedy strikes. His mercies don’t end when the diagnosis is grim. They are new every morning, including the mornings when the waters swell, the fire burns, and the pain is deep.

Great is His faithfulness. (Lam 3:22-23)

 

 

***

[i] http://psalmreflections.blogspot.ca/2009/11/steadfast-love-of-lord.html
[ii] http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/jason-soroski/what-is-steadfast-love.html

Beautifully Broken

It always comes.

Another loss. Another sorrow. Another walk down another hard road. Once again your sovereign hand guides me into the valley of the shadow. The struggle intensifies, and the road becomes hard, but you are with me.

In the deepest and darkest depths the lessons from high are challenged. Will the ache to be faithful overcome the ache to give-up? You comfort me.

You gather fragments in your pierced hands. Jagged edges mar your flesh. Still, your grip tightens. You press in. You never let go. You restore my soul, for your namesake.

Piece by devastated piece you will build something new. You will build something that never would have been without the wounds that burrow even deeper into You. You prepare something good for me. 

Your love, your mercy, and your promise to restore makes the broken beautiful.

My cup overflows. You are my shepherd. I shall not want.

*from the archives

Vacation Bible School War

Like many other churches in our city, we are gearing up for a fun-filled week of Vacation Bible School (sometimes called Vacation Bible Camp). Posters and signs blanket the community promising an action-filled, energetic, and faith-building week.

And the enemy prowls.

He would love to twist our desire to reach and teach the next generation into a contest between churches.

  • Who will draw the largest crowd?
  • Who will create the best backdrop?
  • Who will “out VBS” the rest of us?

But it’s not church against church. It is church beside church.

It is one line of multi-denominational believers linking arms together. It is a sea of voices louder than my church and louder than your church joining in one battle cry to wage war against the forces of darkness.

To all those bible teaching, Jesus-loving, faith-building churches in my community, I exhort you with Paul’s command:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood. During the week of your bible camp, your biggest struggle will not be the child with ADD. It will not be the child who is homesick or even the child with the fiercest temper. Your biggest struggle is against the cosmic powers over this present darkness. The enemy wants you to believe that VBS is nothing more than glorified babysitting. Resist that slip toward apathy. Your Vacation Bible School needs YOU. This is war.

Fighting for Souls

You are picking up the sword and fighting for the soul of every child in your care. Do not be misled. Expect trials. Expect difficulty. Prepare yourself, as Paul commands. And then, pledge to pray for your brothers and sisters on battle lines drawn all across your city.

To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,  and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Make supplication for me, that words may be given so that I can boldly proclaim the mysteries of the gospel. Make supplication for the church next door that faithfully proclaims the Word of our Lord.

May the Word be declared boldly, and God be glorified all across our cities.

Can I really be anxious for nothing?

He preached it on a Sunday. Do not be anxious. Then he confessed the irony of his growing apprehension as the Sunday deadline rushed closer. Even the preacher knows anxiety.

But he knows anxiousness is only a symptom of the deeper problem. The problem isn’t anxiety, he says. The problem is a distracted heart that strays from God and divides the mind. If you seek first God’s kingdom, the Spirit of God is able to refocus the heart on what matters because life is about more than what worries us. Seek first the things of God over the things of the world.

And now it’s my turn. It would be easy to spiral downward with these questions: Am I parenting right? Are the children learning everything they need to know? Do they know how desperately, wholeheartedly, and unconditionally I love them?

Will we have enough money to retire? Should we be saving for college? Do we invest, pay down the mortgage, fix up the house, or just give it all away?

Will my third novel get picked up? Will the others continue to sell or tank? Should I write more or should I invest in more education?

God knows what my children need. He gave them to us. Therefore,  we are the right parents for these little ones. Will we parent perfectly? No! Can God work through our humble and sincere efforts to glorify Him and steer our children toward Him? Yes! How it is accomplished? Prioritize the things of the Lord.

When I consider the lilies of the field, how can I worry about our future needs? God cares for the sparrows, and He will care for me. Prioritize God, and He promises to care for me.

And the book(s)? If my heart is truly in the proper place of desiring to glorify God with my ability, then WHATEVER He decides to do with my offering will be right and enough. Prioritize getting the message right, proclaiming His Word unashamedly and with boldness. God can take care of the rest.

Seek first the kingdom of God, and God not only provides what we need, He is delighted to give us the kingdom.

Seek Him first, in everything.

*from the archives