Fearfully Safe

A friend shared this with me from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening:

“The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power.”

— Nahum 1:3

…Dear reader, what is your state this evening? Can you by humble faith look to Jesus, and say, “My substitute, thou art my rock, my trust”? Then, beloved, be not afraid of God’s power; for by faith you have fled to Christ for refuge, the power of God need no more terrify you, than the shield and sword of the warrior need terrify those whom he loves. Rather rejoice that he who is “great in power” is your Father and Friend. 

  

The place of weeping

Here is a quotation from John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” which I found thought provoking:

Hon. But what should be the reason that such a good man should be all his days so much in the dark?

Great-heart. There are two sorts of reasons for it. One is, the wise God will have it so, some must pipe and some must weep. Now Mr. Fearing was one that played upon this Base; he and his fellows sound the sackbut, whose notes are more doleful than the notes of other Musick are; though indeed some say the Base is the Ground of Musick. And for my part I care not at all for that profession that begins not in heaviness of mind. The first string that the Musician usually touches is the Base, when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first, when he sets the soul in tune for himself. Only here was the imperfection of Mr. Fearing, he could play upon no other Musick but this, till towards his latter end. I make bold to talk thus metaphorically, for the ripening of the Wits of young Readers; and because in the Book of the Revelations, the saved are compared to a company of Musicians that play upon their Trumpets and Harps, and sing their Songs before the Throne.

When the Great Musician chooses to bring music to the dead soul, he begins first by playing the mournful notes. When those around me are hurting and struggling, perhaps that is God beginning a great symphony in their lives.

 

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My Weakness

As we have been getting ready to move, we have had the unique opportunity to receive cards, emails, and words that express the gratitude that people have for us. This could easily become an area in which pride could rear its ugly head were it not for a recurring theme in many of the encouraging words. One of the things that I have heard repeatedly is that people are thankful for my weaknesses.
For the times that I have sinned or made mistakes.
For my transparency in life and for being real.
Who would have thought that what God would use most in the minds and hearts of those around me are my weaknesses?

At times, I have desired to be good at something. Really good. There are people who are musically talented. There are people who are amazing with words and can write beautifully. There are people who are talented in everything they do. And then there are people like me. It seems like I have to work extremely hard to be semi-good at anything! And yet, God has not seen fit to use any amazing talents or brilliant things that I have done to encourage those around me.

God has used the times that I was near the point of giving up, throwing in the towel, and deciding that ______ (you fill in the blank: life, ministry, serving, good stewardship, loving others, working on relationships) just wasn’t worth the trouble that they were causing in my life.

And I have been open with many people. God has used the times when I had a bad attitude in youth group (could my heart possibly be so ugly when I didn’t get what I wanted at the white elephant gift exchange?) or when I was impatient on a mission trip (aren’t we supposed to be on extra good behavior on missions trips?).

God has consistently brought me to conviction and repentance in the relationships in my life, and this has seemed to encourage others.

When God kept me and was faithful to me when I didn’t want to be faithful to Him anymore, God not only changed my heart, but He used my weakness to change those around me.

When I desperately wanted life to be different or to have a baby or to have ease and not hardship and I thought my life would have been better had I just died when I had my stroke, God graciously stopped me from continuing down that path. He used my wrong attitudes and thoughts to show me I can do nothing good without Jesus and He used that to teach others the same lesson.

So, for those who have shared that they have been so very thankful for being able to see the intense experience of sanctification in my life, I am grateful.

By God using my weaknesses rather than strengths (what strength do I have without Him anyway?), people have been able to be pointed to the perfection of Jesus Christ and not to me.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

Connecting

The past few days were great. We spent Monday-Wednesday down in the Cities with the Templetons and Fulks. Jon, Lorena, and family flew in from Pennsylvania and spent three days with us, talking, planning, laughing, and herding toddlers.

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It was exciting to talk about moving over to Spain in the next few months. We brainstormed about home location, volunteer opportunities, and even things like furnishing our apartment. We also just talked about life. We shared what we were learning, where we were struggling, what excites us, and what scares us.

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I don’t think I can overstate the importance of friends with whom you can open your heart. I thank God that people like the Templetons and Fulks are teaching me how to do that through their example.

Staying Healthy and Losing Weight

I have been ruminating (never a good sign) on some ideas lately concerning diet and exercise. Strange, I know, since it isn’t even the beginning of the year when everyone is supposed to think about those things, but nevertheless I have been thinking.

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I don’t think diets or exercise are wrong. Especially if you consider that a diet is just a compilation of what you eat. You can have a good diet or a bad diet. You can eat healthy food in healthy proportions or you can eat unhealthy food in unhealthy proportions (and any mixture of those four).

The question I have been thinking about the appropriateness of saying “I need to exercise/diet/get surgery/etc. in order to lose weight.” 

I believe there is biblical principles why we should do certain things to be healthy, but when the reason is to lose weight, I wonder. I know that sometimes to be healthy, you have to lose weight. I am fine with that! Just call it what it is, “I am doing this to be healthy.” Perhaps it is just the amount of people that I see that have lives which revolve around weight (and often times their looks). Perhaps it is just sensitivity to the gods that food and appearance can become in our lives. Whatever it is, I wonder if it is every appropriate to say, “I am doing this to lose weight.”

In my mind, when we talk about being healthy, I see “healthy” as not being the end goal. The end goal is being able to do something because you are not healthy. That may be to live, to feel better, to be able to walk, to avoid illness, to avoid surgery, to save money, etc. I would hope that the glory of God in whatever I eat or drink (1 Cor 10:31) is the foundation. However when weight is the issue, that seems like the end goal as well. “I want to be this weight.” Why?

Granted, the attitude can be the same in either case. I can be self-centered, egotistical, and body-worshipping about my health as well as my weight. It really isn’t the phraseology that is the most important. But, I have to wonder…

Here is a post that started me thinking.

What would you say?

Moms and motherhood

A Mother

There are many facets to the concept of “mother.” A mother is not someone who has merely given birth to a child. In its most basic sense that individual is a mother. However, the biological action of giving birth to another does not make one a mother in its fullest sense. In the same way, the reality that a woman has not given birth to another does not necessarily exclude a woman from being a mother. Motherhood is not merely a biological link between two people. Motherhood is deeper than an action. It is a life.

Motherhood is a mentality of a woman who has invested her life in nourishing, mentoring, and sending another out on their own. A mother seeks to feed, not force; to model, not manipulate; to encourage, not control; to illuminate, not quench. Her goal is maturity, not infancy.

A mother gives up her desires and enjoyments in order to foster the development of others. Her hobbies change. Her dreams are modified. Her focus narrows. She thinks of others before herself.

It is sad that the term “mothering” is known by an aberration, rather than its intended purpose. In its proper sense, anyone should be honored to be “mothered” by a woman. To have a woman give her live in order to nourish, mentor, and send out another is love. It is a gift of God worthy of our note.

Many give birth but never mother. Many never give birth but give their lives mothering. I praise God for each of those who truly mother. I have had various women in my life who have mothered me in the fullest sense of the term. My birth mother is a true mother, one who God graciously gave to me. My mother-in-law who gives of herself, and gave her daughter to me. My grandmothers, one of whom became a mother of four by speaking the two words, “I Do.” They both have been godly mothers. There have been moms while living in foreign countries. A five foot Gloria Villalobos who loves her 6’4” white son as her own. There is Becky Carlton who opened her kitchen for cinnamon rolls and genuine care. I thank God for my wife, Crystal, who not only mothers our child, but has been a mother to many more. God gives godly woman to mother us, and then gives them His love so they might shower it upon us. I thank God for them.

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Comfort and My Experience

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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In the previous posts we looked at four different types of people when it comes to comfort, and then some of the reasons why we suffer affliction – namely to experience and give comfort. What I would like to do today is share some thoughts on how to use your experience to give comfort. These are not necessarily ones I am good at, but ones that have been modeled before me recently.

Comfort First Aid

1. Listen before you share

Failing to listen demonstrates that I may understand the situation, but I definitely don’t understand comfort. Often times the most comforting thing that I can do is just listen. Ask anyone who has experienced a deep loss “What did people do that comforted you the most?” I guarantee that “they just listened” will always be near the top.

When we listen we affirm the person’s struggle. We agree with them that this is hard. We help them heal without trying to fix them.

Confession time: I am awful at this. I like to fix the person’s logic, theology, memory, attitude, and possibly even their personality all in one fell swoop. While Jesus did correct Martha’s theology (John 11:25-26), he did so in the context of genuine sorrow (John 11:35).

2. Share enough but not more

When God has placed you in the position to comfort someone who is suffering, share enough, but not too much. Let’s imagine a person just broke their arm. Tell them you understand how badly it hurts, but don’t tell them you broke both arms and both legs, in multiple places, at the same time, while rescuing a drowning baby, and didn’t get any time off work. That may be true, but when you top their struggle, the hurting person just feels like an idiot.

Think back to what you were feeling and mention what hurts, fears, frustrations, etc. that you felt and then…

3. Point to God, not to you

If I am the hero of my story, I don’t understand comfort. God is the God of all comfort, not me. He was the one who comforted me, and he is the one who will comfort this fellow person.

If I point that hurting person to me instead of God, what will they have when I leave the room? Nothing. If I point them to God, instead of me, what will they have when I leave the room? More than enough.

These are some ways people have ministered to us, sharing a God-given comfort experienced in their life. We thank God for giving us people like this in the midst of struggles, and pray that we too will comfort others with the comfort God has given to us.

What other suggestions would you add?

Comfort and Affliction

Part 1; Part 2

Part 3
“Why?” is a tough question. It seems like every time I try to burp an infant I get this, “Why are you beating me?” look. I try to explain, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.

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We don’t always receive answers to our “Why?” questions. Why did I lose my job? Why did I experience this loss? Why did this happen to me? Job is probably the best example of God choosing not to give answers to the “Why” questions of life. God never gave Job reasons, instead God reminded him who was God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

Paul addresses the reality of affliction in the lives of the believers of Corinth. That city, as you probably well know, was not the ideal place for a believer. (Judging by Paul’s letters to the church there, I am not sure that even the church was a good place for a believer at times!) Undoubtedly they experienced affliction from both natural and supernatural causes, as do all believers. Paul’s use of “affliction” refers to “trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation” (BDAG). Affliction is an external reality that often produced an inward anguish (2 Cor 2:4).

In this passage we have a partial answer to the question of “Why?”

1. Believers suffer so that they might share in Christ’s suffering (5)
Suffering with Christ was seen as a privilege in the early church. The apostles were martyred, the early church fathers laid down their lives, believers accepted their fate as they confessed Christ. Believers around the world share that same idea today.

2. Believers suffer so that God may comfort them through Christ (3-5)
God is the God of all comfort. He is not a God who is far off, but one who has chosen to suffer for his creation (John 19) and suffer with his creation (John 11:35). No other religion offers that.

3. Believers suffer so that they might comfort others (4)
When a believer has suffered, that individual has been given a unique ability to comfort someone else. The greater the pain felt, the greater the understanding of comfort.

A friend of mine works in a jail. In order to carry a stun gun, each officer must experience the power of the tool. They do not do so by watching a video. They must receive the shock themselves. This gives them an appreciation for what they hold in their hands.

Someone who has felt the pain of affliction can now sympathize with another in that situation. They are able to point them to the God of comfort as someone who has received it.

Next post I would like to give several suggestions about using your experience to give comfort. These come from watching others model them recently in our lives.

When you have experienced affliction, how has God given you comfort?

Some Helpful Posts:

“My Spouse Doesn’t Meet my needs” – This post argues you have the wrong “needs”

“Is there Hope for Dealing with Anger?” – The Bible says “yes!”

“Christianity in 25 Objects” – If you aren’t following this series by Challis, you are missing out on a great way to learn church history.

Ice Castle:

Pretty neat, but I am sure glad it has melted!

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Comfort: 4 Groups

Burdens are weights. Weights crush if the burden bearer is not strong enough. Do you remember the burden that you had? Do you remember sharing it with someone else? Chances are you shared it with one of these four types of people:

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1. Those who don’t understand the situation and don’t understand comfort

You have talked with these people. You share with them that huge boulder on your soul and the conversation just moves on. You may get a momentary pause, but the awkwardness prevails and you return to the importance of the weather forecast.

You probably don’t get upset at most people like this. They just don’t understand what comfort is, or why you would need it. The worst part of the whole deal is normally just that sinking feeling you have after your burden comes rolling back on you. You can get used to this.

2. Those who don’t understand the situation but understand comfort.

This second group of people are special. You share your burden with them and they feel the weight. They love you by recognizing how hard it must be for you. They have no idea of what it would be like to be experiencing what you are right now, but they know you hurt. They hurt with you.

We have had these people call and leave voicemails during very difficult times in our lives. All they could say was how sorry they were for us. There were pauses where you could tell they were choking back tears. These people recognize that your burden is heavy and wish they could carry it with you…and by wishing they could they actually are.

3. Those who understand the situation but don’t understand comfort

Sadly, I have been this person for too many hurting people. We are the ones who spend our time trying to tell you our story so you understand that we understand. In all of that we miss out on giving comfort. We like to prove to you that we can understand your pain because we have experienced something similar ourselves. In an effort to dig up our own burden for you to see, we roll yours and ours right back on top of you.

Normally I just assume that I am building rapport. I think sharing my burden with you will help you somehow. I may have been in a very similar situation as you, but it was not the same. I am not feeling it at this very moment like you are. You are feeling the full weight, I am not. I forget that though my situation may have been “worse” for various reasons, you are in the midst of it, not I.

4. Those who understand the situation and understand comfort

These people are “tenderhearted” (Eph 4:32) because they feel with you. It were as though they were suffering too. They understand what you are dealing with. Maybe they have lost a loved one too. Maybe they have spent weeks in the hospital too. Maybe they have felt the sting of unexpected loss. Because they have been there, and because they understand comfort, they let the weight of your burden rest on them for a while.

These people seldom dig up their burden to show you. And because they don’t, you may believe they are in the second category. But their silence, understanding, and reassurance show that they understand comfort, and they understand enough of your situation to know what to do, give comfort.

We recently experienced this. They had visited in the hospital, prayed, cried, and reassured. It was only several days later that I realized that this individual had experienced something so similar to what I was in the midst of. When that realization hit I thanked God for sending true comforters.

Would you add any categories? Have you seen these in your own lives? Leave a comment.

Later I would like to address 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, and a possible way to give comfort by sharing your personal experiences.