Category Archives: risk

The Incredible Gift – and Power – of Being There

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I have seldom heard such crushing news that I couldn’t bear listening to it.  I have heard many hard stories.  But this one broke my heart and almost made me run – almost.

I sat and listened as a woman told of her journey that began as a Christian physician in a worn-torn, Muslim-majority country which weaved its way through bombings, bullets, and resettlements as a refugee.  Her journey brought her to the US, where her faith in Jesus strengthened her yet again to learn English, a strange culture, and to start life over again as an adult.  It was all too much for her husband who left her with a young son to care for, so now she’s doing it on her own.

But none of this is what broke me.  None of this was new to me, and (hopefully this doesn’t sound callous) none of this surprised me.

Since she told me she was a believer, I asked if she had been able to connect with a good church here – had she found community among other believers in the US who were helping her cope with the arduous task of beginning again?  Her answer is what made me catch my breath and try (unsuccessfully) to hold back tears.

She said, “I go to a good church.  The people there – they have been kind, very kind.  The Word is preached, and they have been very generous.  They have helped me find a home and work.  They have helped me with my bills.  They have helped me figure out how to go to school and how to get needed help for my son.”

And then it came…

“But they leave me alone.”

She said, “In my country, if I was having a very hard day – 7 or 8-hour surgeries where I didn’t know if the patient would survive, babies born dead, limbs shattered because of guns – anything – I could call my brothers and sisters in Christ and they would be there.  They would dodge bullets if they needed to – THEY DID!  They would come to me and be with me.  They would let me cry and let out my anguish without running away from it.  I could endure all of that because they were always there.”

She went on, “You asked if I have found community with my church here.  Not like in my country.  People here don’t know how to sit with someone in pain, but my brothers and sisters there did.  They knew they couldn’t take your pain away, but they weren’t afraid to sit with you in it.  My church here is kind – but they run away from things that are not comfortable.  And my life – my pain – is not comfortable for anyone.  So, they leave me alone.  I am very alone.”

If that doesn’t break your heart, there is something very wrong.  I felt overcome with sadness for my new friend, but also a deep, deep sense of shame and grief for my beloved brethren here.  I know that what she said is too true.  We don’t know how to sit with people in pain.  We don’t like being uncomfortable.

I found myself asking, “What kind of suffering does it take to wake us up?”  If a refugee who has been so terribly traumatized won’t do it, what will?  If abused women and children won’t do it, what will?  If death and disease and trials that brake us won’t do it, what will?

Beloved church – dear, kind, generous church – we must wake up to the tremendous power of our presence in another’s life.  We don’t need to know the answers – most of them are unknowable!  But we do need to show up.  We need to let people cry and pour out their anguish and pain.  We need to be patient when they need to do it again and again until the storm is past.  Suffering doesn’t care about schedules, and no sufferer will trust you with their story if you can’t first sit in the presence in their pain.  We need to be there – and stay there while the storm rages.  And since the weight of suffering is so great, sufferers usually need multiple helpers.

We don’t like to make ourselves vulnerable to the discomfort of much of anything really, let alone sitting in the presence of unrelenting suffering.  None of us wants pain.  We don’t know what to do with it.  We don’t know how to just let it be.  But we’re called to bear one another’s burdens – it’s what makes us different from the world around us. It’s how we demonstrate Christ’s love.

What keeps us so distant?  Work?  Sports schedules?  School plays?  Ministries that keep us running around with zero time to spare?  These are not bad things, but none of them is good enough.  We are called to die to ourselves for the sake of the gospel.  If a brother or sister is naked or hungry, we feed them well enough, which is good.  But if one is in prison (and what sufferer wouldn’t describe intractable pain as prison?) we are told to visit thembe there. 

We all needed flesh incarnate to understand the love of God.  We see it in Jesus – Immanuel – God with us.  But we learn it from one another.  We learn it from someone demonstrating it to us.  God uses us to reveal his incarnate presence to others.  Think about the awesome privilege that is:  you, a frail and faulted human being have the honor of representing the living God in this way to a hurting soul.  This is a powerful gift to humanity.  Take it up – cheerfully, gladly, reverently.

Who is there in your life right now that you can give some of yourself to?  Who is there right now who is suffering and lonely?  Who is there who is aching for another human soul to simply show up and be there with them?

Go.  Be there.

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When we focus on the problem rather than the promise…

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I read again this morning the account of Joshua and Caleb and the other 10 guys.  You know, the 12 who were sent into Canaan to spy out the land… that God has promised to give to them.

 

After reading I asked my husband, “Would you have been a Joshua or Caleb, or would you have been one of the other guys?”  I know we can never really know what we would do in someone else’s circumstances, but it is good to play “what if…” now and then.

 

We’ve been talking about “risk” lately – when it’s right to take risks and when it isn’t.  And as I heard the story of the 12 spies again this morning a connection was made:  we are not willing to risk when we ought to be eager to do so when we are focusing on the problem in front of us rather than the promises given to us – or more precisely, Promise-Maker who has given them.

 

Example 1:  The Israelites had just left their 400-year slavery in Egypt.  They walked right out from under Pharoh’s nose because God made it possible.  But they encountered a road-block – the Red Sea stretched out before them, and Pharoh’s army was not in hot pursuit to get their slaves back.

 

Admittedly, this was a big problem.  But they had just witnessed their deliverance from the 10 Plagues – including the Angel of Death!!!  They had seen the pillar of cloud that day and the pillar of fire last night that had protected and guided them!  Had they forgotten already?   I mean, we’re talking hours at most here.  Were their memories really that short?  I don’t think so.  But their faith was really that small.  Moses saw the problem for what it was, too, but focused on his great God, who had already proven Himself to be a Great Promise-keeper, instead.

 

Example 2:  The Israelite army was at a stand-still, being held hostage by the taunts and derision of a surly, stupid, bragadocious bully (named Goliath).  He was an oaf, but a huge one, and apparently big enough to send a whole army of God’s men to the other side of the valley to quake in their boots.

 

So, OK, Goliath set the terms for a potentially bad deal.  But the Philistines had invaded Israel’s land that God Himself had given to them.  Every single Jewish boy or girl grew up from infancy knowing that God had given them this land as an inheritance.  It didn’t get lost in history but was central to their identity as a people!  Saul’s army of capable, trained warriors knew it, too.  But they were focusing on the problem of Goliath.  Youthful David, (aka shepherd boy who had just been named King) saw the problem, too, but focused on the Great God who was also the Promiser of the Land (and ultimately their securety) instead.

 

Example 3:  Jesus had begun his ministry and had gathered his 12 specially chosen, closest disciples.  The word had gotten out about Jesus and he was attracting multitudes of men, women, and children who wanted to hear for themselves what great things this teacher was saying.  They had gone out to the countryside and the spent the entire day traveling and then listening to Jesus’ every word.  When the day was waning Jesus told his 12, very special, hand-selected, closest followers to feed these hungry people on whom he had compassion.  Their reaction?  They looked at their relatively empty hands, then at each other, then at Jesus and said, “Umm…With what?!?”

 

OK – there was a lot of people – 5,000 men, plus women and children.  And OK – they didn’t have much to work with – five loaves of bread and two fish.  The problem wasn’t the situation – the problem was that the disciples were focused on the PROBLEM and not the Promiser.

 

So we’re clear here, these guys – these 12 close students of Jesus who followed him everywhere he went – had just seen and heard Jesus do amazing things.  They had just heard him preach the Sermon on the Mount, they had just seen him heal a woman with a long-standing bleeding disorder that no one else could fix.  They had just seen him deliver a man from a demon, heal the Centurion’s soldier without even touching him, raise a little girl from the dead, and oh yeah, calm the storm that the seasoned, hardened fishermen thought they were going to die in.  We’re talking just seen and heard these things!!!  

 

Jesus, however, knew well the Father he served and knew that He would supply all their needs.

 

It seems, folks, that we might want to pay attention to the typical, human responses here.  We are prone to doubt.  We are prone to lose sight and forget.  We are prone to focusing on the problems rather than the promises.

 

We don’t do ourselves any favors by reading these accounts and thinking that we’d be the first to line up to take the land, watch for the sea to part, fight the giant, or figure out how to feed the crowd.  We probably would be with the group that said, “We’d be better off dead than in this predicament!”  But if you’re at all like me your heart leaps at the prospect of being with Joshua and Caleb, David, and Jesus instead!

 

The key in all of these accounts is to KNOW THE GOD WE SERVE.

 

We do not have to fear natural or man-made disasters when we know the One who holds every molecule in his hands.

 

We do not have to fear those who can hurt – or even kill – us when we know the One who has already numbered our days before one of them ever came to be.

 

We do not have to fear the challenges that we face that seem impossible when we know the One who shall supply all our needs – and give us abundantly more than we could ask for or imagine according to his riches in glory because He loves us and takes care of us.

 

How do we know God?  It’s really, really, really simple:  read his love letter to you.  Open up the pages of Romans and John and Isaiah and Genesis and all of it and soak it up as your personal love letter to you from your Dad.  Then, read it again because there are layers and layers and layers of love and goodness there that you can never fully plumb the depths of.  And share it with someone who really needs to know God, too.
*You can read the fuller stories of the examples above in Numbers 13-14; Exodus 14; 1 Samuel 17; and Luke 9.  But I would encourage you to also read the surrounding chapters (and books!).

When Loving Seems Risky…

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image-of-broken-heart-e1438801033741“Risk is right,” or so says John Piper.  And David Platt.  And my pastor, and a bunch of other people I respect and admire.  I’ve heard risk loosely defined as, “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”

 

Well, sometimes that word “possibility” is a little misleading…

 

We take risks all the time (unless we live in a hole somewhere).  We consider the “pros” and “cons” of a situation – and what that often really means is:  If I do this what could I gain compared to what it will cost me?  We are willing to take risks because there is a chance – often a good chance – that it will pay off and bring us great rewards.  We take a new job, we move to a different house, we go to grad school, we get married, we start businesses all because the possibility of reward is worth any loss that we might have to face.  We risk, because we’ve measured and concluded that there is a reward to be had – here, now.  A tangible, definable, measurable reward.

 

But there is one area of our lives that doesn’t – or really shouldn’t – work that way.

 

Love.

 

Let me try to explain first by way of example.

 

When you have a child, an odd (but wonderful) thing happens – to many of us for the first time.  We love another being more than we could have ever imagined being capable of loving without that creature being able to return that love – or anything – at all.

 

Mothers and fathers the world over know this from their experience.  If you’re not a parent you will just have to imagine, and trust that what I’m telling you is the truth.

 

That tiny lump of flesh and bones is precious in your sight despite the blood, the mess, the strange color, and the frantic, self-absorbed screaming coming out of it.  You don’t care about any of that.  You love that little baby with more than all your heart – your capacity to love swells immeasurably and no matter what, you find yourself full to the brim and overflowing with love for that wee creature.

 

They make you crazy.  They suck your energy dry.  They bleed your bank account faster than leeches draw blood.  They are relentlessly demanding, and selfish, and hungry, and needy…

 

Yet, you love them – simply because they are ours.

 

Now we may derive some joy out of caring for them, and we may build relationships that teach them to love us, too – but that is not why we love them.

 

And we know that if something were to happen to them – or if something already has – that would forever prevent them from being able to love us in return, we would still love them with all of our hearts – because our love for them was never based on what they could or couldn’t do for us.  It’s a one-way street from beginning to end, whether or not they ever love us in return.

 

Trust me, I’m thrilled beyond measure that every single one of my kids loves me.  My heart would be broken and full of a terrible sorrow if they didn’t…

 

But I would still love my children if they didn’t love me – and so would you.

 

We feel as if there isn’t a great risk in this kind of one-way love.  Pretty much everyone (unless there are unnatural problems involved) loves their kids.  We know that the normal course of events is that when we love someone, they love us back.  

 

But what do you do when it isn’t that way?  We’re not called to only love our children, are we?  What do you do when the risk of loving is terribly high because you know it will be painful and sorrowful and hard no matter what you do when you try to love a neighbor, relative – or even a spouse who doesn’t love you?  We want a good return on this love-investment.  We want riches and plenty – compound interest on our principle deposits of care and concern.  We’ll settle for equal contributions to these transactions but we’re all hoping for dividends instead.  Who keeps investing in something that never gives any kind of increase or accumulation in return?  It’s just foolish to keep throwing good love, after bad, isn’t it?

 

Actually…. No.  It isn’t.

 

Loving the unlovely – the selfish, the stubborn, the mean, the angry….  This is exactly what we are called to do.   It is exactly what Jesus did.  Loving those who insulted, ridiculed, slandered, maligned, persecuted, and even abused him  – this is what he did.  With compassion he looked at the ones who were crucifying Him and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”! 

 

I know, I know – there are caveats and disclaimers that always need to go in right about here. I don’t have time to go into the differences between lovingly standing against sin and sinfully letting it go (that’s another post someday).  But let’s not use the exceptions – the extreme cases of horrifying evil and abusive sin – as excuses to keep the rest of us from doing the hard work of loving the unlovely.

 

We all have people in our lives who are truly difficult to love – I do, too.  We have neighbors, relatives, and family members who are so caught up in their own lives that they seem incapable of empathy, much less selfless love.  All hopes of mutually loving relationships have probably vanished long, long ago.  But here’s the thing:  We have to learn to choose to love them anyway.  We have to learn to choose to love them even though there will be little – if anything – given in return.  We have to learn to be willing to risk being hurt – again – by them, because we love them because of who Jesus is and what He has done – not them.

 

“Why?” you ask?….  For the sake of the Gospel.  Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10 both tell us the same thing… God demonstrated and proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners – selfish, mean, hard-hearted beasts – Christ died for us.  Did you catch that?  He laid down his life for us – you and me – when we were still nasty, biting, ill-tempered sinners.  He didn’t love us because we loved him back.  He loved us in spite of the fact that we didn’t.  As every good father does, he loves us simply because we are His.

 

What a beautiful portrayal of Christ-like love our journeys can be when others can marvel at the love we give when it looks like this, and know that it comes from a supernatural Source!

 What a loud, unmistakable testimony our lives become when we say from our hearts, “Lord – I can’t do this without you!  I cannot love this person – I don’t even want to – but I love YOU and I know that is what you want me to do.  Help me to be willing to risk the hurt, the pain – all the messiness of this risky, one-way love.   Help me, please to love the way that you have loved me,” and he does all that you ask.

The world notices, and when they do we can point them to Jesus when they ask – “HOW do you do it??” 

But even if they never do – even if they never notice or ask or admire or appreciate this risky, selfless, one-way love you give, God does.  And that is worth far more than we will ever lose in these costly love transactions.  Our returns will be a hundred-fold – and that is a promise from God Himself.  So you see, this kind of “risky” love isn’t really risky after all.  It’s a sure-fire investment given by the One who manages the Books.

Do you trust Me? Or do you just say that you do?

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Someone sent me this drawing yesterday.  She is learning the beautiful, but sometimes painful lesson of trust.

This is a lesson God wants us all to learn.  From the time we are aware of God working in our lives until the day we die, we will be asked, “Do you trust Me? Or do you just say that you do?”

As C. S. Lewis so aptly stated:  ”

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is not part of the Christian faith.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It’s not that we want wonderful things that is the problem – it is that the things we want are not wonderful enough!  “I want more” is not a bad desire!

But we hold on to trinkets and dollar-store substitutes rather than all that is Good and Beautiful and True.

I like the little drawing above – I especially liked that the dear soul who sent it to me is doing the hard work of struggling through whether or not she can let go of the cheap substitutes that she has been clinging so tightly to.  But I do have an issue with this portrayal, and that is this: the teddy bear that is being offered to this child is far too small a gift!

Jesus offers us so, so much more than a bigger toy.  He offers us Joy and Peace.  He offers us new dimensions of every single human emotion.  He offers us pressed-down-shaken-together-soul-satisfying fulfillment in ordinary and spectacular ways.  How?  He offers us Himself.  There’s no blind acceptance necessary – he’s clear and honest about what we receive when we receive him as the gift.  We get everything because he paid everything.

If you are afraid that yielding your life over to King Jesus will make you miserable and kill all your fun, ask yourself why you are willing to settle for such shallow, fleeting, temporary substitutes that leave you empty and always wanting more, when Jesus offers you the real thing that fills and quenches and slakes every thirst and desire you could ever have.  Don’t let bad examples of his followers ruin the perception you have of Him.  We’re all in the process of becoming more like him – but we all have such a long way to go.  Look past his children and see Him.

We all need to stop being deceived into thinking that there could be any lasting contentment or peace in anything other than the One who is Everlasting Peace.

So I ask again, “Do you trust God?  Or do you just say that you do?”  The answer makes all the difference.

As always, I welcome your comments.

PS.  I searched and searched for the artist of the above drawing but kept coming up empty-handed.  If you know who the artist is, please let me know so that I can give credit due.  Thanks.

Going to hell is worse than going to jail…

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That probably seems obvious to most of the people reading this blog.  Most of my friends would readily agree to this being truth.

But do we believe it?

Do we live in a way that we make decisions based on that being true?

Sometimes I’m guilty of saying I believe something to be true, but not living and making decisions like I believe it to be true.

I’ll give you an example.

Years ago, when I was expecting baby #2, we had moved away from “home” to a place where I knew exactly two people – my husband and baby #1.

I was young and embarassingly immature.  I was exceedingly lonely.  And I was sick as a dog with said baby.  I don’t mean a little queasy in the mornings, but couldn’t eat or drink anything, losing weight, needing to be in the hospital multiple times sick as a dog.  It was a dark time for me.

Why did God take me away from all the people who loved me and would have helped me?  Why did we have to move to such a gloomy place (Cleveland, OH – no lie – check out their yearly cloud cover!)?  Why did I have to be so stinking sick when other people “glowed” with pregnancy?  In short, I was whining a lot and demanding of God, “Why do I have to suffer???”

Previous to this I know I would have given complete and confident verbal assent to the truth that all Christians will have to suffer at some time or another.  I know this because I had already done it.

I knew 1 Peter 2 – where Peter tells us, “For to this (suffering well) you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps.”

Intellectually I knew the implications of Matthew 16:24 where Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

And I could have quoted John 15:20 where Jesus said, “Remember what I told you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also…”  and John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble…”

But in both cases I would have focused on the ends of those verses – “If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also.  If they have obeyed my teaching they will obey yours also.”  And, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Glossing over the hard parts doesn’t make the hard parts, well, not hard.

As I lay in my bed, wasting away under the call to bring a new life into the world I did not celebrate this high calling – I railed against it.  I raised my ridiculously small fist at the Almighty God of the Universe and demanded to know, “WHY!?!”

That’s just one example of how I didn’t want to suffer any real pain or inconvenience – unfortunately, there have been many.

In all those times what I really needed was to understand the truths that these passages and others like them are really saying.

Here’s what I’ve learned that Jesus is really saying to me… and to all those he is calling to follow Him:

“Laurie – life is going to be hard if you are going to be my disciple.  You are going to experience all kinds of hardships simply because you belong to me.  They may be a little hard, or they may be exceedingly hard – to the point of pain or torture or death.  But don’t be afraid.  In fact, be bold!  For nothing will happen to you that isn’t from my hand and no one can take you from me or my care – I have overcome everything that stands between you and me.  Trust me in all things.  Following me will be worth infinitely more than you can imagine.”

I’ve continued to need to learn, in fuller and fuller measure, what this really means in the daily things of life.

Will I step in to difficult situations knowing full well that they will be painful, because God is calling me to them?  Will I stop and help that person?  Will I go into that neighborhood?  Will I go into that country?  Will I go back, again, to engage that difficult person?  Will I risk comfort and safety and reputation to tell others what Jesus wants them to know?

And perhaps harder still, will I take my children into those situations because they need to learn how to do those same things?  Will I support my children going into “dangerous” situations without me because they believe God is calling them there?

This is where the rubber meets the road.  These are the daily, ordinary kinds of things we all face but want to run away from.  This is where our decisions reflect what we really believe.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then my answers to those questions will need to based on that truth.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, I will value his direction for my life more than I will value my personal space, or comforts, or safety, or reputation.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then like the believers in North Africa, or China, or the MIddle East, I would be willing to go to jail or be beaten or even put to death in order to tell my friends and neighbors about Jesus… because them going to hell is worse than me going to jail.

Guest post from 14 year old Susannah

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We’re sitting here at Charles deGaulle airport waiting for our flight to England and then home. As I think about our time in France one of the things that stands out for me is a man we met named Joshua. Joshua is a refugee from Nigeria. On may 7th, he said goodbye to his family as he and his dad prepared to preach at separate towns in the north, during this, they were attacked. Joshua has no idea how he made it out alive, but by God’s grace, he did. He fled to France, because a Christian man saw him reading his bible and offered to buy him a plane ticket to Paris. Once there, he had no where to go, and lived on the streets for three weeks, then another man saw him and told him to go to Chalons, to the red cross. Through this, he got connected to the Marshall’s and started attending their church. Joshua still has no idea if his family is alive or not, he suspects that they are dead, but when Mr. Marshall called to ask him if he would help at the baseball camp. He answered the phone with “I can’t talk, I’m with Jesus.” to see someone who has suffered so much, and still has faith like a rock, was amazing.

Radically different perspectives…

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A guest post from my 21 year old son, Isaac…

 

Don, the guy we’re helping run a baseball camp here with, gave us about a five hour tour of this part of France, covering mostly the Revolution, and WWI. He does this tour to help people understand the French better. One of our conversations that we had during the tour was about his experience going back to the states to recruit from seminaries and Bible colleges. He told the story of being at a seminary recruiting one year during a conference, he had his little table set up and students would file past, looking for souvenirs and treats from France. One student made his way to his table and after looking about for a few seconds said “So, what does your organization have to offer me?”

Meanwhile, here we are at one of the larger US military cemeteries from WWI, looking at thousands and thousands of graves of young American boys and men, that died protecting France. They died for 21 years of peace. Most of them volunteered. They volunteered to die for a fight they had little stake in.

It’s striking that so many will voluntarily go die for a war that isn’t theirs, or for honor that would last a short time, but that when people try and recruit missionaries to simply go live somewhere else and be intentional about their faith, it’s nearly impossible to get anyone to commit long term.