A Book Review of “One” by Deidra Riggs

one deidra riggsThe back cover of “One” reads, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges. Be a bridge builder.”

It seems that’s exactly what Deidra Riggs is promoting in her book. she makes a case for Christians not necessarily having missed the boat on the gospel as much as we have missed the boat on our understanding of love in the kingdom of God. We are divided within the church and our example and witness hardly seems consistent when we talk about a God who accomplishes the impossible.

Riggs writes, “As members of the body of Christ, our language and cultural differences and our music and sermon length preferences seem like weak and empty reasons for separating ourselves from one another and thinking it’s okay to do so.” We have separated and segregated ourselves, sequestering ourselves in homogenous communities, churches, and other places. Riggs indicts Christians as having chosen, “churches and faith communities that envelop us in the comfort of people who look like us, think like us, vote like us, and dream like us.”

We’ve chosen to divide ourselves by our issues rather than looking past them to our commonalities. Our differences seem to be the one thing that our God can’t seem to conquer, at least in our own minds. We don’t work to move past these things because of the potential mess and discomfort that would be involved. Instead of looking to understand differences in ideas, opinions, and viewpoints, we choose instead to turn them into lines in the sand. Riggs writes, “…distilling a moment in a person’s journey to categories – pro-life or pro-choice, criminal or upstanding citizen, sinner or saint – limits out ability to let God be God in the life of that person.” She adds later, “When the people on the other side of our argument become our enemies, and we identify them as such, we have let our argument become our idol.”

“A faith that uses Jesus to justify any type of division, prejudice, injustice, or superiority needs to be examined and brought back into alignment with the truth of Christ’s message of good news.” We can’t remove our call to love our neighbors from the message of Jesus Christ. While that may feel uncomfortable, justifying our division, as Riggs says, needs to be evaluated in light of that message.

Riggs is incredibly honest about her own part in this. She admits her struggle and candidly shares of her own story. She is not perfect and never comes across as such. She admits, “When I mistake my position on an issue as being critical to my identity, I’ve let these differences stand between me and others in the body of Christ.”

We often struggle when we don’t fully understand from where someone is coming. Our lack of understanding, or ignorance, should be no excuse for downplaying how someone experiences something that is completely foreign to us. Instead, we need to lean into the relationship to try our best to understand where the other person is coming from. We cannot dictate how a person should or should not respond to a situation, especially when they’re coming to it from a completely different perspective or viewpoint than us.

When it comes to racial divides, It’s inappropriate for white people to be telling black people to “get over it” or “move on from the past” when the past continues to rear its ugly head and prove that it’s not as far back in the past as we’ve made it seem. Love and understanding need to be our primary goal when we encounter these situations that divide us. In fact, downplaying and diminishing the experiences of others in the midst of this will actually increase the divisions that already exist.

So much of what Riggs shares speaks to my heart. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the past months exploring the issue of division and race. There is a tension that I feel though as I read “One” and I keep trying to put my finger on just what it is. Is it my own discomfort in having to change my ways or is it a discomfort in something that just feels wrong or different?

Riggs writes, “If we let our convictions take the place of Jesus in our lives, we could very well be standing in the way of the same Holy Spirit with whom we profess to be filled.” As I read this, I’m trying to understand just what Riggs wants us to do with our convictions. Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who gives us those convictions? How can the convictions that we have received from the Holy Spirit stand in the way of the Holy Spirit himself?

Of course, we can easily be reminded of the story of Peter in Acts having a vision of animals that had been called “unclean” to him coming down from heaven while he heard a voice telling him to eat. His own convictions ended up being wrong because God had expanded the menu. As Riggs writes, hiding behind spiritual convictions to justify our own prejudices is unacceptable.

I read Riggs’ arguments as being specifically pertaining to the racial divide that we see within the church, but there are times when I wonder if she’s moving past that to other areas that are seemingly dividers within the church. While she never explicitly mentions it, it’s hard not to think about the current state of the church in America and some of the other divisions that we see over convictions and the interpretation of those convictions. While I don’t condone unloving or ungodly prejudices, there is a tension that we will feel as followers of Christ when we hold to conviction of sin while still loving our neighbors, regardless of where they stand.

I may be reading too deeply into what Riggs has written and my own bias may be expanding her arguments past what her intentions were. Despite my discomfort with my interpretation of what Riggs is saying, I applaud her for speaking into this topic of division and race with such conviction and raw honesty. What she offers in “One” is an opportunity to engage a difficult subject by someone who has been far more impacted by it than I have and whose understanding can help me with my own.

“One” is an opportunity to begin to understand, especially if you are like me and are coming at the issue of racial division within the church from one who is not the minority. I would encourage you to hear what Deidra Riggs has to say. Let it challenge you, but more importantly, let it move you.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday, at least for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. It’s the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his suffering and beating, the injustices done against him, his abandonment by those who called themselves his followers. As I think about all that happened on Good Friday, none of it seems to add up to giving it the moniker “good.”

But we can’t look at Good Friday on its’ own. The only way that Good Friday can really be called “good” is if we look at it in light of what happens just three days later. Good Friday becomes good when we realize just what it led to, the celebration of Easter Sunday.

As I think about Good Friday and all that Jesus did, I realize that his work is nothing that can be duplicated by any of us. He alone was able to live a perfect life. He alone was able to be a sacrifice for our sins. He alone was able to rise again after three days in the tomb. But I think we can learn lessons from what Jesus did, at least one lesson for every day that he was in the grave (give me a break, good things come in threes, right?).

1) The will of the Father was more important than his own

Jesus knew his purpose and mission from the beginning. From the moment when he began his public ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus exhibited submission to the Father. The Father’s voice rang out from the heavens, “This is my beloved son in him I am well pleased.”

While most of us may have gone the selfish route, Jesus did not waiver in deed from his mission. He submitted to the Father’s plan and accomplished the perfect work. Jesus’ agenda was the agenda of his Father, not his own.

How many of us can say the same thing? Do we really allow the will of our Father to take priority to our own?

2) He knew there was a bigger plan at work

Not only was Jesus submissive to the Father, but he also kept the bigger plan in mind. Jesus knew what the end result needed to be and he did not waver from it. Jesus had every reason to get caught up in who he was, the Messiah, and what he was able to do, but he didn’t. Jesus, in fact, continued to try to conceal who he was until the moment was right. He knew the bigger plan and did not want to derail that plan or for anything to happen before the appointed time.

How often do we remember that God has a bigger plan in mind? Do we get hijacked in thinking that our plan is more important than the master plan?

3) He didn’t open his mouth

In fulfilling the prophecies that had been spoken of him, when Jesus was arrested and tried, he did not say much at all. He did not defend himself. He did not use his divine powers. He simply kept his mouth shut.

I don’t know about you, but this has to be one of the most difficult things for me to do in following the example of Jesus, especially when I feel that I am under attack. It’s hard not to be defensive, let alone not opening my mouth. My reflex and automatic response is always self=preservation, yet Jesus was less concerned about himself and more concerned about what we saw in lessons 1 and 2 above. The will of the Father was more important than his own and the bigger plan was more important than his own plan.

As I reflect on Jesus’ work over the course of these days leading up to Easter as well as the lessons we learn from him, it’s a little overwhelming to think about. No matter how hard I could try, I could never measure up to Jesus and all that he did. While that may seem deflating, it’s actually freeing to understand that Jesus’ work was enough and there is nothing that I can add to it. While I can follow his example, even when I don’t, he offers me forgiveness and grace.

Good Friday is indeed good. What happened on Easter was great. May we constantly pursue the example of Jesus as we are constantly transformed into the image in which we were created, the imago dei, the image of God.

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Just A Thought

I’ve been delving into a new world lately, finding pieces that I write needing to rely more on research and experience rather than simply thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my time does not always afford me to get done the things that I want to get done in an effort to get done the things that I need to get done. Therefore, I’ve gone on a hiatus of sorts here, not offering anything since I haven’t been able to offer what I want.

For that, I apologize. I’m working on the constant balance between life and work and continually struggle with it.

But for this Tuesday morning (the first day of school for my older children), my mind is buzzing with all kinds of thoughts, both relating to school and life, but also having to do with many conversations (both digital and face to face) that I have been having lately.

There will be fuller posts, but for now, in the absence of something fuller, I offer some simple thoughts.

I have had conversations of late on art and faith. It’s a topic for which I get too passionate. My criticism rises to new levels and I am misunderstood more often than not.

Based on my conversations, I am realizing that we feel very personally when we talk of what matters to us. Now, most readers are saying, “Duh! Tell me something I don’t know” to response to that. But we feel deeply to the point that criticism heaped at the things for which we are passionate is taken personally. In fact, it’s almost as if the criticism was lobbed at us rather than an inanimate and lifeless piece of art.

I am learning to wade more gingerly into engagements of this nature as we all feel so deeply and personally. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am grateful for those who have offered insights and direction in this area.

I am also realizing just how much I have to do more research and study in the area of faith and art. Once upon a time, sacred music was considered excellent. It may have been the “Contemporary Christian” music of the time, but it was influencing culture and having a deep impact on the world. Many of the sacred pieces of music written once upon a time remain timeless and excellent today.

C.S. Lewis had much to say about faith and art, as did Madeline L’engle, who I am currently reading. I expect that I will have much to say after spending some time with the two of them.

Until then, I offer this thought. What is art that is Christian? Is it art that specifically presents a message to unbelieving souls in order that they might know the Christ who has transformed our lives? If so, that greatly limits the possibilities.

One of the greatest and most powerful books that I have read is John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I believe that it was Rich Mullins who pointed me towards the book. Regardless of the recommendation, I picked up the book and read it and had the desire to put it down on more than one occasion.

The book was crude and profane and yet beautiful. Within its pages was a message of calling, of gifting, of purpose. Underneath the crudity and profanity, there was a message of beauty that spoke loudly. The problem was that that message was tainted and covered over, unable to be seen by some who were still hung up on the fact that there was crudity and profanity. It’s not a book that I would recommend to everyone. In fact, there are probably some who would distance themselves from me just for the mere fact that I’ve read the book.

Years later, I have yet to open up the pages of the book again, but I know that I need to do it. I know that I need to be reminded of the message that it offers within its pages. I know that there is something within those pages that speaks to me out of the crudity and profanity that surround it.

In many ways, that book is a metaphor for so many of us and how God sees us. Beneath the crudity and profanity, there is beauty, there is hope, there is substance. Many will simply take a look at the crudity and profanity and walk away. In so doing, they will walk away from potential, from transformation, from all that could be. In failing to see past our faults and imperfections, we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

While there are limits here and the analogy can be taken to an extreme, I’m not pushing to that end. It’s not a call for those who follow Christ to embrace all things crude and profane. It’s simply an effort to ask some soul-searching questions about the things that we disregard before we’ve allowed God to speak through them.

At my worst, I am crude and profane, yet many have given me the opportunity to speak, and I am grateful for that. More importantly, God has seen through my crudity and profanity to see who he created me to be, and the image in which he created me. Thankfully, he did not abandon me, he did not walk away, he chose to engage and in that engagement is transformation and life change for me.

How grateful I am in that God sees through my imperfections. May I look with those same eyes on the world around me.

Life Is _____ – A Book Review

Life IsAugustine said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. I think Judah Smith would agree with his statement. The tagline for his latest book, “Life Is ______” is, “God’s illogical love will change your existence.” We will not find satisfaction and completeness until we find that in God. We may search in all kinds of places, things, and people, but they will always fall short of what God offers us.

Judah Smith explains that the premise of his book is “that Jesus shows us how to live life to the fullest.” He then proceeds to explain this throughout his book as he breaks it into four sections which complete the “Life Is ______” statement: life is to be loved and to love, life is to trust God in every moment, life is to be at peace with God and yourself, and life is to enjoy God.

With self-deprecating humor, fascinating and personal stories, and simple expositions of Bible passages, Smith explains the Gospel to his reader. He continually points to the things in this world which may claim to offer us satisfaction but explains how these things will always come up short in comparison to what God offers us. He presents the Gospel message, clearly stating that we don’t earn our salvation, it is freely given to us through Jesus Christ. We will always fall short when we try to earn righteousness, which is why we need Jesus.

Life change doesn’t happen through rules and regulations, they don’t create inner motivation. Only Jesus and a relationship with him can accomplish that.

This book isn’t written for someone who wants to dive into something theologically deep. Smith presents things in a simple and easily understood way for those who may be just setting out on a faith journey or who haven’t even begun the journey yet. His clear communication of some essential principles of Christianity are helpful for anyone who always feels as if they are being spoken down to by pastors and teachers of the Bible.

“Life Is _____” was a helpful reminder of our need for a savior and our inability to produce salvation on our own. I would highly recommend it for someone who has not yet met Jesus yet who is experiencing all of the storms that life inevitably throws at them. If you don’t know someone who can benefit from this book, then you’re hanging out with the wrong people!

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishing. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Ferguson, Race Relations, and Advent

For Christ followers, Advent is all about expectation and waiting. From the time of the last Old Testament prophet until the birth of Jesus, there was a period of 400 years. 400 years of silence. 400 years of waiting, watching, and wondering. Waiting for a sign. Watching for a savior. Wondering if God was even there anymore.

Now, it’s been more than 2000 years since Jesus walked this earth. While we celebrate Christ’s first Advent, we anticipate his return as well during this time. We are reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning as in childbirth, waiting for redemption and restoration. The problem with the 2000 year lapse is that we kind of fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We stop anticipating Christ’s return. We stop thinking about the fact that things are still in need of restoration. We stop thinking about everything that is still broken and in need of fixing.

We stop remembering until something bad happens to remind us. We stop remembering until we are face to face with some of the brokenness that is prevalent in our world. When we are forced to face the bad and the broken, we have no choice but to begin to ask ourselves the question, “where is God?”

Recently, a friend shared a sermon that was preached at her home church. One of her pastors had just returned from a trip to Ferguson, Missouri. As she preached during Advent, she couldn’t help but relate the unsettled state of things there and how it related to the anticipation of Advent.

Regardless of what your particular political viewpoint or what your opinion is of the verdict that was handed down in Ferguson, it would be hard to deny that there is something wrong and in need of being fixed. There is an anticipation there, and according to this pastor, it’s palpable, you can almost feel it. If you can’t feel it, you can at least see it in the faces of those who are protesting, whether peacefully or otherwise.

Those who are protesting peacefully are seeking a redemption and restoration of sorts. They want peace. They want safety. They want some ounce of normality in their lives, especially if they are non-white and living in places like Ferguson. They wait for it, they groan for it, they crane their necks around every corner to see if they might get a glimpse of it. But when they don’t see it, they don’t stop looking for it. They keep pushing forward, anticipating, coming together, trying hard to find a pathway to restoration.

During this Advent season, I am reminded of how far we have come, but even more how far we have yet to go. While we might be far from the 1950’s and 1960’s when racial tension was more palpable across the country than it is today, there are still those places where it feels just as palpable. There are still issues that are unresolved, issues that continue to rear their ugly heads, issues that refuse to go away because they involve people who live and breathe and who care.

If ever there was a time for the Church to find ways to celebrate Advent and seek restoration, it’s now. What can we do to learn more about what our brothers and sisters are experiencing every day? What can we do to enter into dialogue with people, crossing political and racial lines for the sake of reconciliation?

I continue to listen to my African American friends who point me to resources to try to help me understand the issues that they face a little bit more every day. I am grateful for them, grateful that God brought them into my life. I want to do my best to keep this issue in front of me, but that’s hard to do. I admit that I am not in the thick of it and that’s it easy to forget it when you don’t see it every day.

For now, I can let Advent and the anticipation and expectation that I experience during this time be used as a reminder that there are issues for which we still wait, watch, and wonder. I can remember that, although I might not feel it as strongly, there are some who are longing for restoration in their lives, they are waiting for a savior to come, they are waiting and groaning, and hoping that around the corner, there will be something better waiting. I don’t want them to wait alone.

 

Another Hurdle

hurdleOne thing about grief that some people tend to overlook is facing similar circumstances to your own loss afterwards. As a pastor, that happens much sooner than it would for the average person. Pastors are called to bedsides and hospitals frequently as people near the end of their lives. Sometimes, the similarities between the experiences of these people and the experiences of your lost loved ones can be so eerily similar that the pain gets dragged up and out again, making the loss and grief feel fresh all over.

This morning, a gentleman from my church passed away. Yesterday, I stood at his bedside, prayed over him and read Scripture to him. It was a very difficult moment for me.

I had been mentally preparing myself for the visit. The Holy Spirit had laid on my heart the need to go see this man and his wife. I knew that his time on earth was short and I knew that I had to get over there.

But I also knew what I was walking into. I knew that the memories of what I experienced 1 ½ and 3 ½ years ago with my parents would come flooding in. I knew that I would be transported back to another hospital bed. I knew that I would not only be seeing this man coming to the end of his life, but I would be reliving my mom and dad’s last moments as well.

I was glad for the opportunity to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for this. Had I walked in thinking that everything would be as usual, I would have been much more impacted than I already was.

Later on in the day yesterday, I would have a conversation with someone and tell them that our own experiences helped give us sensitivity and insight into people whose experiences were similar. God can take the things that we experience and use those to help others as they encounter their own difficulties. That’s what happened for me. While I felt some moments of reliving the past, I realized that my presence there was more effective because of what I had gone through myself.

I don’t think that I can say that every subsequent experience gets easier. It’s never easy to open up wounds that have been trying desperately to heal. But there’s something different here, there is something healing about seeing a redemptive purpose in your own suffering and difficulty. Knowing that your own pain can help others when they find themselves in similar pain helps to feel that it all wasn’t in vain.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Earlier on in the letter, the writer writes, “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Jesus experienced what we experienced so that he could help those whose experiences would sometimes parallel his own.  He earned our trust, respect, and love by being God who took on flesh and suffered worse things than most of us will ever have to experience.  We are not alone.

It’s always nice to know that you are not alone, especially in difficult circumstances. I’m on the other side of a hurdle today, having looked in the face of death and survived. My heart is heavy and it hurts, but knowing that God has higher purposes helps the sting to be a little less painful.

Forgive Us Our Sins – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Lesley writes: I love this post for several reasons. Honestly I didn’t know this prayer by heart until just a few years ago, not to mention I hardly considered its significance or beauty. I love the way Jon broke down this prayer, especially the parts about sin and forgiveness. I admire Jon’s raw honesty when it comes to his own struggle to forgive. As he says so eloquently, “Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.” I was blessed to study this prayer in my small group. Between studying the prayer and Jon’s blog post I look at the Lord’s Prayer in a whole different light. I look at it as God intended, as a daily reminder of how I strive to live my life, all for His glory.]

Our Father….

Who are in Heaven….

Hallowed be Thy name…..

Thy Kingdom come…..

Thy will be done…..

On earth as it is in Heaven…..

Give us this day our daily bread….

And forgive us our sins…..

As we forgive those who sin against us……

Those who sin……against……us……

When’s the last time that you prayed that prayer? When’s the last time that you actually thought about it? I mean, really thought about it….

Forgiveness. It’s a strange thing. We like to be forgiven when we do something wrong. What happens when someone does something wrong to us? How willing are we to forgive them?

Some sins are more easily forgiven than others. We can forgive a lie, depending on how big it is. We can forgive a false word, as long as it’s not said against us. We can forgive a little anger, as long as we weren’t embarrassed by it. But what happens when the sin that we’re called to forgive is more significant. What if someone steals from us? Breaks into our house? Hits our car? What happens if someone takes the life of someone we love? How do we forgive them?

I’ve had my fair share of harboring resentment and bitterness. I’ve struggled to forgive people who hurt me, and most of those hurts were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, I came to the point where I realized that anger and withholding forgiveness wasn’t doing harm to anyone else other than me. It’s funny how that works.

But, like I said, the hurts that were caused were fairly insignificant. The only one who ever took someone from me was cancer and heart disease, and it’s kind of hard to be so angry at diseases. They’re just not people. I don’t know what I would do if I lost someone because of another person. I don’t know how I would forgive if someone else took someone that I loved away from me…..

While he was hanging on the cross being ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and spit on, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there. He actually wanted them to be forgiven…..while he was in the thick of what they had caused. No anger. No contempt. No withholding of forgiveness.

As we forgive those who sin against us……

It’s not a good idea to pray things that you don’t mean. I’ve really got to stop and think about this one, am I really willing to forgive? I mean REALLY willing to forgive?

My forgiveness has been tested and left wanting. It’s been tested, but not as much as other’s forgiveness has. I’ve still got a long way to go to really come to that point where that prayer will roll off of my tongue easily without a stutter or a struggle. Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.

Better Together [Director’s Cut]

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Lesley writes: I reread this post several times, because…I felt as if Jon was writing it about and for just me! Honestly before I allowed myself to accept God and faith into my life I felt very much alone, and secluded myself from others. At a young age my parents divorced. My mom returned to the work force and went to school in the evenings. She was doing the best she could but the women she hired to care for me were not particularly loving or kind. From ages five to seven we had a woman watch me that used to beat me consistently with belts or shoes. Thus my protective shell and tendency towards distrust of almost everyone. Honestly I believe it wasn’t until I came to Christ that I felt worthy as a human being for any kind of emotional connection and deep love. This blog post confirms that we, as human beings, need each other. We can’t do this thing called life alone. God’s most treasured gifts to us are through our relationships with others.]

We weren’t made to be alone. No, I’m not saying that to promote the end of singleness. I’m saying it because we are relational creatures, made in the image of God to be with one another. The moment that we begin to sequester ourselves from others is the minute that we not only begin to set ourselves up for a fall, but also when we live out of sequence with the intention of the One who created us.

You can learn an awful lot by watching your kids. My 2 oldest kids are only 23 months apart from each other. While we have had our fair share of challenging days, we’ve also begun to see the benefits of the natural relationship that forms over time with the two of them.

While my wife was putting our youngest to bed on an evening when I had a meeting, she left the 2 older children downstairs to occupy themselves quietly. After successfully getting the youngest one to sleep, my wife returned downstairs to find that the oldest had chosen a movie, loaded it into the DVD player, set everything up, and even brought his brother a snack for the movie-watching experience. What a pleasant surprise takes place when your kids are actually learning some of the things that you have been trying to teach them all along.

When I made an anniversary video for my wife for our 10th anniversary, I used Jack Johnson’s song “Better Together” as one of the background songs. Over the course of 10 years, my wife and I were constantly reminded that we do things better together. We get more done cooperatively and we have fun in the process, especially if it’s a task that we’re not necessarily crazy about doing on our own.

We weren’t made to be alone. The wisest man in the world understood this when he wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

We can find countless stories within the Bible of what happens to people when they spend too much time alone (the story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind). I’m not recommending that all of the introverts of the world rebel against their natural tendencies to be reserved and quiet, but I am recommending that we come to the realization that we need each other. We need support. We need encouragement. We need prayer. We need loving arms. We need sturdy shoulders. We need each other.

We are a gift to each other, given by God not to selfishly consume, but to lovingly and graciously give. That’s what Jesus did. I can’t imagine the number of times that he would probably have liked to tell the disciples to just leave him alone so that he could have a few moments of peace, but instead, he loved them and gave himself to them. What am I doing to give of myself to others? My children? My wife? My friends? The people who need me most? What am I doing to live out the truth that we are better together?