Suffering

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April 15

Monday, April 15th, 2024

Does the way things happen ever make sense?

That has been the question running through my mind the past week and on into the weekend.   Please give me a chance to tell you why I ask that.

My best male friend has been told he has 18-24 months to live. One of my other male friends was given 3-6 months to live and it has been close to two. Unless God intervenes time is running out. Then this past week one of our boys in the church (age 6.5 he has informed me) has been sick off and on since January/February. He goes from kinetic energy to crash is 5 seconds. Some things have been ruled out but what has not has been leukemia and lymphoma. He goes the 25th to Riley Hospital for a full work up. The family is still waiting to hear the prognosis.

As I shared with the church yesterday, I believe God has 3 answers to our prayers:

“Yes.” We like this one for obvious reasons. We like that we are in agreement with God…or is that He is in agreement with us? In either case, a good answer.  🙂

“No.” This is an answer but not quite the one we wanted. This simply means that God and I are not on the same page. Shocker! But at least its an answer!

“Wait awhile.” This is the toughest I believe. No one like to wait. From grocery store lines to prayer, waiting is not a strong suit. It’s like God is saying, “Hang on. I’m not going to answer right away.” The answer will come-perhaps a yes, perhaps a no-but just not yet. And it’s not because God is being mean or vengeful. Maybe there is a lesson I need to learn. Maybe there is a timing issue. In any case, I have to realize that what seemed like a bad idea actually worked out for my best.

Until God’s timing comes to fruition, I’ll live life to the fullest and realize God is good…no matter what. For reference take a moment to read Psalm 116:5-19.

November 16

Monday, November 13th, 2023

We all have a story. We all have a past. We all have a present. We all will have a future (although as Doc Brown says in Back to the Future: “Our future hasn’t been written yet.” Doc Brown is right, and he is also wrong.  We don’t know what the future holds. God does. He has written our future. What that all means is a discussion for another day).

I repeat: we all have a story. I’ve been reading each morning from a book entitled Limping with God by Chad Bird. It is a book solely committed to tell the life of Jacob. Jacob’s name means “supplanter, deceiver” and it seems his whole life was one big story on that idea. Many incidences in his life stand out, which would require far more space than I am able to give right now, but two stand out head and shoulders above the others. One was in Genesis 28 where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven (yeah…don’t go there.  🙂 ). The other is in Genesis 32 as he goes to meet Esau and wrestles with God and comes away with a limp.

There is much to learn from diving into that story, but one I read this morning stuck. Mr. Bird writes, “Jacob limped into the future bearing the burdens of his past-burdens that were lightened by the memory of the God who christened him with a new name.” (p. 174).  BTW: that new name was Jacob to Israel.

We all carry scars of our past. Jacob’s (Israel’s) was a limp where his fellow wrestler (God) touched him on his hip because Jacob said he would not let him go unless he blessed him. Thus, the limp.

I have discussed this before: anyone who think becoming a follower of Jesus releases us from a tough time in life is whacked. No where, NO WHERE, does God promise us an easy road. Quite the contrary, what He does promise is that our present and future might be a life of pain from our skirmishes and scars, but one in which we are never left alone.

October 16

Monday, October 16th, 2023

“While there is breath, there is hope.”

I read that this morning. How appropriate. This past weekend we (Jo, Tami and I) traveled to Ohio to see our daughter/sister, Janna, and our grandson/nephew, Braden. While there we received a call (Thursday) from the dialysis center that Jo’s sister, who is in a nursing home with diabetes, dementia, and other maladies, had suffered what they thought was angonal breathing (Google it). They took her to the ER and admitted her. From that point we were 2+ hours away. From our home in Indiana we are 6-7+ hours away. Long story short, they believe she actually had some type of seizure and then admitted her that night to the ICU with another one. We received word yesterday afternoon (Sunday) they were releasing her to the nursing home.

“While there is still breath, there is hope.”

Vicki has lived a long life (74 years). Not so a 5 year old boy named John (named changed). John has had a glioblastoma since sometime in 2022. (Sorry the exact date escapes me). Long past the expected lifespan, John continues to fight as do his parents and doctors. As do I. Only my fight is the prayer version. I will pray until John breathes his last breath…or me. It would thrill me if my last breath was before his.

What a testimony it would be if John was healed. Only God knows, of course. Only God decides when each of us will die. He does not heal everyone, least not physically here on earth. But He has promised a great retirement plan for those who love Him, and especially children. Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your  book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (ESV). Our days are known only to Him.

“While there is breath, there is hope.”

Thank you to Lori Hatcher. That statement was from her book Refresh Your Hope published by Our Daily Bread.

October 10

Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

I had a good day yesterday…my birthday. I did absolutely nothing. That’s good and bad. While I worked in the office early and had a staff meeting that lasted all morning due to various reasons, I was unable to go to the Y or for a ride.  🙁  However, I had lunch with Jo and Tami (our adult daughter who is on Fall Break from teaching K kids…thanks Tami), then drove to Terre Haute to pick up my Pathfinder. It had been in the shop since last Thursday. That’s when the fun began.

I did absolutely nothing. Unless you count reading, laughing and eating ice cream nothing.  I call it doing what I like to do when I don’t have anything else to do or want to do! 🙂

Honestly? I needed it. After a very busy weekend (I had a wedding rehearsal and ceremony), preaching twice in the morning, and small group I needed a slow day. Plus my schedule in 2023 has been full and hectic. Time away is needed by me and Jo, but such is our life right now and the holidays coming, that it isn’t going to happen. I do have several outlets  (biking and the Y), but sometimes one needs more. Sometimes time away is essential.  We are hoping 2024 works out for us.

What started me thinking of this (besides my own fatigue and realization)? I read a quote by former MLB player, Andrelton Simmons: “Most people carry scars that others can’t see or understand.”  He walked away from baseball in 2020 due to mental health issues.

Several thoughts went through my mind when I read about him. First, we are sometimes very good covering up the real “me.” “Never let ’em see you sweat” is the saying that goes through my head. To let someone see who you really are is often seen as a sign of weakness to admit we even have a struggle. NO. NO it’s not! It is a sign of strength to admit it.

Second, no one dare criticize another who is going through a crisis. I need to constantly remind myself that “there but by the grace of God go I.” That could have been me. He is right. We all have scars. I know I do. And I need to remember to do as Joe Simon once sang about: “Walk a mile in my shoes.” Truthfully, we all need to walk a mile in someone’s moccasins before we dismiss or criticize them.

Jesus empathized with us. Hebrews 5:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He knows. He understands. He stands with us. Next to us. Holding us up. Giving us His strength.

Don’t hide. Don’t pretend all is okay. Get help. Be honest. You are not alone.

September 13

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

I read this morning that as thousands of Ukrainian women and children arrived at Berlin’s railway station fleeing war, they were met with a surprise-German families holding homemade signs offering refuge in their homes. “Can host two people!” one sign read. “Big room [available],” read another. Asked why she offered such hospitality to fleeing strangers, one woman said her mother had needed refuge while fleeing the Nazis and she wanted to help others in such need. (Source: Our Daily Bread-9/13-Sheldon Voysey author)

The word refuge stood out to me as I read that story. I think of a refuge as a place to hunker down during a storm. There have been times I have been out riding my bike when a storm has hit unexpectedly (and I was trying hard to beat it). Out of necessity I have ridden in a misty rain or a steady rain (Getting from Point A to Point B), all the while looking for a place to get out of the rain. But a storm? I look for the first porch, first barn, first roof, first covered inset of a building to (hopefully) wait out the storm.

Multiple times in the book of Psalms we read the word refuge. Here are a few:

Psalm 2:12- “Kiss the Son…Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

Psalm 5:11- “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice…”

Psalm 7:1- “O Lord my God, in you I take refuge…”

Psalm 11:1- “In the Lord I take refuge…”

Psalm 16:1- “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge…”

Psalm 46:1- “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  (It is reported H.G. Wells once said, “God is an ever absent help in time of trouble.”)

As you can see the verses speaking of God as a refuge are many, and those are just a small handful of verses from Psalms.

Storms come. They know no discrimination. They know no boundaries. We will all experience storms. Some catastrophic; some light. Some inexplicable; some easy to read. What makes a difference is to WHOM we run. In WHOM will we seek refuge? David, the author of most of the Psalms, found his refuge in God.

What about you? Where will you find your refuge?

September 12

Tuesday, September 12th, 2023

A further recollection of 9/11…only this one comes later…one year later.

I was still the pastor of a church in Sandusky, OH. As 9/11 approached, I knew the memory was still very real. I had befriended several other pastors and met with them on a monthly basis for laughter and mutual encouragement and prayer. I lived in a small town outside of Sandusky and had become acquainted with a law enforcement officer or two (not from disobeying the law). 🙂 Some of the other pastors had communication with LEOs and firefighters. So we decided to have a memorial service, which included some singing, short recollections, and honoring the men and women in attendance who were, what are now called “front line workers.” Standing on the stage with me were pastors of various churches, various colors, various races, and various nationalities. There was no distinction based on race, color, or creed.

There is a reason for that. When tragedy or hardship strikes, it knows no boundaries. It doesn’t say, “I’m just going to bother white people this time.” As a matter of fact, did AIDS just visit one class of people? COVID? Does discrimination? The answer, of course, is a big resounding NO.

We used a school auditorium for that one year anniversary of 9/11. It was packed! Year #2 not so. Much of the cooperation was also gone. Not because of animosity, but because life moves on. It happens. The pastors still met for prayer, laughter and mutual encouragement. But, in some way, the collective remembrance stopped. For me, 9/11 always brings a time of silence, of gratitude for others, and a renewed sense of living in a flawed, but still-the-best-country to live in.

I still sing “God Bless America” when I hear it (mostly under my breath because my singing acumen has much to be desired). 🙂 🙂 But I pray more that America will bless God, that we will repent and return to the ONE who controls all things and heal our land.

August 10

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

Recently, I witnessed a healing. No, not the kind you are probably thinking (although I wish I could in this case). Here’s the story:

In the past, Person B listened to the voices of others and told me to leave Person A as a friend and as a pastor.  He then turned his “guns” on Person A. He continued listening to the voices and sought changes which did not happen. A resignation happened and the “guns” were taken up by another. Meanwhile one of the voices was pretty much out of the picture. Again, changes didn’t happen and another abandonment happened.

In the meantime, Person B has come on hard physical times. Devastating actually. As Person B’s pastor, I made the conscious decision to forgive and made countless visits-many of them hours away-to minister and to bring healing. I truly believe God has been faithful in bringing the latter.

But what about Person A?

I make weekly visits to Person B to encourage, to pray, to laugh with, to offer communion (something he misses since we offer it weekly), and to share the amazing healing power of God in a relationship. My love for Person B and his family is real and I want them to know that.  I want him to know that.  In my visits I sometimes take others, friends from his past, to visit and hopefully encourage and let him know he is not forgotten. And to offer hope. I decided-with the wife’s blessing-to bring Person A with me some day. I saw God work!! Now, whether Person B even remembered the past I don’t know-such is his memory. But I saw Person A engage with Person B and his wife and offer some vital help where they have been stymied before.  What a phenomenal gift it would be if Person A can pull off the help he has offered!! I can’t speak for Person B’s feelings, although he did get emotional when Person A told him that he and his wife were praying for him. Person B’s wife, I think, was simply relieved someone was going to do something.

Mention healing and our immediate thoughts go to someone physically healed. Rarely do we think of emotional healing or relational healing. I witnessed both, especially in Person A. Personally? I think being witness to the relational healing does more good to my soul than all the physical healings I have seen God do (and I’m not speaking of the showy, TV, made up kind).

Somewhere angels were rejoicing, and the Father was smiling, as they witnessed “Forgive as you have been forgiven” come alive. I know I am.

July 26

Wednesday, July 26th, 2023

Have you ever had those times when you felt totally overwhelmed with life and by life? You’re not sleeping well. Things at work are stressful. Home-your normal place of refuge-is in an upheaval. Your workouts (if you exercise)-which are normally refreshing-seem to be a real drag. Even your moments of “me time” are seemingly non-existent and if you have them, too much is going through your brain for you to relax and enjoy them.

The truth is as plain as the nose on your face: we have all experienced them from time to time. From the holy one to the vulgar one. From the disciplined one to the undisciplined one. It doesn’t matter. It is part and parcel of being part of the human race. 🙂

The late David Powlison wrote these words:

We have this God who enters the stage of human need, who invades mercifully and powerfully to shield us, to strengthen us, to forgive us, to help us, to lead us, to care for us, to be a refuge for us.”  (Take Heart)-p.208

The Psalmist wrote these words: “Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands for up for me against evildoers? If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart were many, your consolations cheer my soul….But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.”  (94:16-19,22)

Even though we may have those moments, days, weeks, even months when we feel hopeless and helpless, overwhelmed, beaten down or defeated, we are none of those. We have Someone who feels what we are feeling, but who also walks alongside and says, “Here. Let me take that from you.”  LET HIM.

July 25

Tuesday, July 25th, 2023

Our community is grieving. There is a lot said about living in a small town and not all of it is complimentary. The town I live in, Spencer, IN, is around 2300 people (depending, I suspect, on whom you talk to… 🙂 ). The county encompasses about 24,000 or so. People knocks small towns. “A lack of a night life.” “No place to hang.” “No business” (not true in our case as Cook Medical and Boston Scientific will attest). “No place to shop.” (Again, I beg to differ. We have one of the earliest WalMarts ever built I think. We call it our “itty bitty WalMart”). “No large church to attend.” (And that is a problem why?)

Sure, there are drawbacks. “Everyone knows everyone’s business.” (not really true actually). “Everybody gets up in your grill if you make a wrong move, get a divorce, etc.” (also not true)

But there are also big advantages. Think 2020 riots and protests. Nope. Think lock down. (to some extent but not nearly like the big cities). Think school curriculum. Think militancy. I think you get my drift.

Here’s another: our community is grieving.

This past Thursday evening, a high school senior died as a result of a one-car accident. Alcohol and drugs were not involved. No report has officially been made, but even then we don’t have the news hounds who are all over this story. But tonight for family, students, faculty, coaches, friends, neighbors, LEOs…all will be grieving as this young man is honored with a visitation and funeral at the local high school.  It will be a big one.

As chaplain of the Sheriff’s department, I know first hand how some have been affected. I know the young man who will be conducting the funeral, a relative of the family, and one who has become a friend. (He is bi-vocational). 

In September of 2011, Brett Wood was killed in Afghanistan by an IED. When his body was brought home to be buried just about the whole town turned out to line the streets in his honor. The procession went right by the church property which is on the outskirts of town and we suspended our worship service to line the highway to pay our respects.

I pastor a church in a small town. I’m proud of that and these are just two of the reasons why I would not want to be anywhere else nor have it any other way. And you know what? They may not even realize it, but they are practicing a Biblical principle. It’s true. I Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Our community is grieving. But we will grieve together.

July 24

Monday, July 24th, 2023

I’m sure you have heard or used the phrase, “Man, it looks like you got up on the wrong side of the bed.” That, of course, is not a compliment nor should it  be taken literally. That is a trite way of saying that the person is in a rotten mood and might want to start all over.

But…have you ever had the opposite? Everything is cranking on all cylinders. Your day clicked. You had a really good day. You laughed with people. You got lots of hugs from little people and big people.  You rejoiced at the good news someone received. You dined with people who were fun to be with and had two children who were mercurial-they cried at one point and then had smiles to melt your heart. You then had a productive office time. All was good until…

Something happened which ruined your mood.

That was me yesterday. Let me just put it into one word: c.o.m.p.u.t.e.r.

‘Nuff said? Over an hour’s worth of hard work. Gone in one stroke. Yeah…I was not a happy camper. An effort to ease the looming pressure of the coming week…gone. Needless to say, my mood changed in a heartbeat. Frustrated beyond belief, I quickly did some physical stuff which needed done and then closed up shop and went home. Even this morning as I sit here writing this and contemplate getting back to that document-once completed but now only partially so-I can sense the irritation.

I have a choice to make: let it be said I either got up on the wrong side of the bed OR I wiped it off the map, hitched up my britches, and got back to work.

I’ve already made my choice. I chose last night to spend the evening in conversation and laughter with my wife and daughter. I chose to spend part of the time texting with folks who just needed an ear and some encouragement, or to share in their joy. And I choose this morning to pick up that document and finish it, maybe even better than it was before. I refuse to allow it to ruin my day or start my week off on the wrong foot (or the wrong side of the bed).

What do you do when you day goes sideways?