Encouragement for the Lonely During Quarantine

Despite the memes reminding us that personal quarantine is not the end of the world, social distancing is going to be rough on some people.*

Yes, we should keep perspective and praise God that we are not fighting another world war (or an infection). But if you’re going to trot out that line every time someone struggles, it gets hard to have a conversation. Loneliness is real. And we are all – accustomed and unaccustomed alike – going to learn new things about it in the coming days.

Scripture acknowledges loneliness. David cries out “Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am alone and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). Well-known verses like Ecclesiastes 4:10 – “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up” – reveal that God meant us to need each other and record the pain when it doesn’t happen. We are meant to need God more, but if you were to interpret that as license to run off to a cabin in the woods and commune with God alone for forty years (something my Montana people might know about), theologians would hasten to correct you. We were not meant to live this life alone.

When community is denied, struggle comes. Someone has said “Joy shared is multiplied; sorrow shared is divided.” The mathematics of fellowship, if you will. The church was meant to do good things in the world that few pairs of hands can’t, as the disciples acknowledged in Acts 6. My state and local guidelines still permit me to visit friends (for the moment), but even if we were to mutually agree on it, most of my friends have small children. That makes me hesitant to seek out companionship right now. I think that’s probably right.

Our elderly, currently the most at-risk demographic, are lonely already. We are not a country that honors its elders, unless they’re celebrities. That’s our loss and always has been (and it also happens to make us an exception amongst people groups). But we aren’t doing much about it, and they feel it in their assisted living homes and empty nests. And now, most states have ordered or strongly advised them to self-quarantine regardless of the advice given to younger citizens.

Singles are not the only lonely people, but I have a heart nonetheless for my unmarried brethren. Its not just that the common and usually fair encouragement of “it could happen any day now!” has hit a rare suspension for you. Some of you know what it’s like to spend a weekend alone with a cold. Or spend your days with no family in your immediate area. Or attend a church that doesn’t pay much attention to you. Depending on your personality and circumstances, singleness can be a socially isolating experience.

Or perhaps you’re the type who’s been feeling alone in a room long before pestilences usher everyone else out.

And, most of all, there are those who have actually gotten sick. Or those for whom “watching Netflix for a couple straight weeks” also happens to mean losing a job.

These are the people we can love and serve and pray for.

Right now, quarantine doesn’t seem too bad. This is partially because it’s still novel (any “shelter in place” orders are only days old), partially because everyone else is ignoring them, and partially because many states haven’t gotten there yet.

That will all most likely change. If other states inch closer to stricter measures and quarantine becomes more strongly enforced, Satan will not miss opportunities to oppress people in their homes. I say this sincerely not to scare, but to prepare. The church should be ready to care for people’s emotional health as well as their physical and material health.

I have a few thoughts that I hope will lift you today. They’re honestly kind of random, but I offer anyway.

1. No hole is too deep for God.

As you can tell from the article, I don’t believe in airbrushing or diminishing hardships. If a hole is there, let us admit it. God seems to.

But even as God grants the greater depth of a hole, he shows his reach is still greater. Through any storm, he is able to reach us, calm our turbulent seas, and set our feet on dry ground (or water!).

It will require vigor and intentionality to secure that piece. Don’t cop to self-pity. Believe it and receive it.

2. No permanent solutions to temporary problems.

Sadly, suicide and self-harm hotlines are recession-proof institutions. I pray desperately that those who face these demons will not succumb amidst their isolation. Use the phone and internet lines. Stay connected. Heck, send me an email. I’d rather answer them than see you hurt.

3. Better days are coming.

I’m not talking about the passing of this darkness, when we all emerge from our holes, rediscover each other, and get it on like Endgame. I’m speaking of the next life.

I personally believe that God has configured heaven to cure and renounce every defining hardship. For illness, we get new bodies; for poverty, we shall never want again; for injustice, God will right all wrongs.

It’ll happen for loneliness, too. We shall enjoy perfect communion with God and with each other, never to feel isolated again. We will be known.

For some, the isolation might prove a restful and much-needed pause, a chance to get back on the spiritual disciplines wagon and move closer to God and family. For others, it might be the thing they’ve most dreaded. The two groups should not judge each other. Let’s all just love instead. God has given us incredible tools at our fingertips; let’s be intentional, gracious, and available during this time, and let us hope. We have no shortage of it in Christ.

* Despite the hardships quarantine may cause, this blog does not endorse modifying or disregarding federal, state, or local guidelines regarding public health and safety. We should put others before ourselves, show the Christian witness, and “submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Do this, and God will see to our affairs.

Can Loneliness Cut Us Off from God?

I’ve always had a heart for Christians dealing with chronic loneliness. Not just singleness, though that is a cousin – I’m talking social isolation.
Sometimes such isolation comes by a person’s choice. Sometimes it’s because of a person’s toxic attitude.
But a few people are born without the ability to relate. It isn’t really their fault. Those social cues and dynamics you regularly take for granted, like who takes which roles in a multi-person conversation, or reciprocating body language? Totally foreign to those folks, like a shuttered and darkened mall store. They just don’t get it.

These folks come in many different shades; some are almost normative, some learn their way out. But let’s be honest – it doesn’t take much to “bug” others. They spend much of their lives shunned. Their tanks are empty.

And what these people lack from others, they often perceive to lack from God. They feel abandoned. They feel left to their own devices. It’s a daily, pervasive pain that elbows its way into every aspect of life.
The Bible speaks honestly about loneliness, and in notably more somber tones than other trials. “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up!” (Ecc. 4:10). Being stranded on a desert island is one of the most harrowing fates we know; prisons use solitary confinement to break souls. Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness.” Even Jesus, blase as he is about human concerns like money, wanted companionship as his hour approached. He denies himself the fruit of the vine until he can drink it with us (Matt. 26:29).
If “all you need is God” were license to run off to the woods for a life of divine communion without seeing another human again, most theologians would hasten to correct. The Christian life wasn’t meant to be lived solo. We were made in the image of a Trinity that enjoys perfect internal companionship. Timothy Keller said, “Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.” So, with few exceptions (some driven by bitterness), our souls reach for companionship. And God, who works through means, intends great benefits for us through that community.

And when it doesn’t come for some, they wonder if they have been deprived of vast swaths of God’s kingdom.

They have few people to pray with them – “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20).

They enjoy less accountability – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)

They have fewer kingdom resources to draw upon when in need (Romans 12:13).

And they cannot help but ask why God isn’t helping.

Put simply, if they feel that God’s hands and feet don’t care, why conclude that his heart does?

Can loneliness cut us off from God?

Something clicked with me from a sermon this week:

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9a)

I cannot imagine that God spoke to Paul without empathy. He acknowledges pain of many kinds throughout Scripture and calls himself the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). God knew that Paul sought relief, peace, freedom. He did not deny the weakness and need.

He did, however, change the route. God’s message was clear: his grace is the only source of life.

Ultimately, it comes down to how you view the universe. Do we really believe that God is the single source of life and goodness? Life and Satan will challenge that assertion. We often only belt it at church, spending the other six days sidling slowly towards comfort TV or staring at stock tickers (guilty).

If we do believe God is the only source, we inevitably believe there is no path to either him or his provisions except going directly to him. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

C.S. Lewis said, “When the first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.” That applies even to the most profound needs and trials. Even if God agrees we need something we’re not getting, he remains first, not just by right, but by necessity. We should know from experience by now that the other way is booby-trapped, inverted, wrapped in paradox. Put a need before God and it will stagnate; put a need after God and it will be watered by his grace.

It doesn’t diminish God to say that lonely people struggle. It does diminish God to say that something other than him must come before him.

Loneliness does not place us beyond God’s reach, nor does it restructure the universe so that we need the church to get to him. Indeed, it suggests that our best chance of having our needs filled – be they community, food, deliverance from any trial – is to abide in God first (John 15:1). Everything else is downstream.
There may still be time and effort involved. I can’t say where the delay comes from.

But when we find greater holes in our soul, God says, “challenge accepted”. As the challenge grows, so does his power. Approach him with your weakness; receive his power overflowing into all else. There is no cup he cannot fill.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Why the Tearful Search for Someone Worthy Matters

I’m struck by John’s confession in Revelation 5:4, in part because it seems at first so alien to us:

“But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it.” – Revelation 5:3-4

Why would the old apostle be so torn up about getting a scroll looked at? It feels like one of those distant, stained-glass religious enigmas that we know we should care about more, but don’t, try as we might. A matter for saints and philosophers, while we stagger about just hoping that we’ll find a cheaper daycare next month, or that our boss will be on vacation just for one day tomorrow.

But then I realize, this is a longing we’re all sharing: the search for a hero. The hero to end all heroes, and to end all sufferings.

Heaven knows where we’ve looked for that. Self, others, philosophies, substances, even death itself.

Revelation 5 presents the final obstacle to which no hero can be found, something against which nobody and nothing will ever cut the mustard.

Benson’s commentary says, “Without tears the Revelation was not written, neither can it without tears be understood.” In some profound way, the scroll of Revelation 5:4 is the final boss, the league championship, the holy grail of suffering itself. We have no answer. No pastor, author, political figure, relationship, or accomplishment will satisfy mankind’s desperate longing to be finished with suffering – no more resurrections a la Palpatine in Episode IX, no more of that old Eastern instinct of “it will always come back around”. An end. To match the beginning.

And then Revelation 5:5 finds someone worthy.

Thanks to my friend Nate for turning me on to this:

 

I’ll let that end this post.

 

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Let Your Inner Rhoda Talk

storm-4582219_960_720For this I’m grateful: my denominational tastes put me in position to drink a lot of sound Bible.

My social media feeds are culled inlets of soulful Scriptural truth. I get a foundation of obedience and surrender. Names like Tozer, Chambers, Piper, ten Boom, and Elliott roll through my feed, highlighting the narrowness and ache of Jesus’ path. I get it. Life is not a flowery bed of ease, a get-rich scheme, or a catapult to political power, or about me. Though this isn’t pleasant news, it’s true, and I would rather know up front than blindsided later.

But on occasion, it can be such a drag. (Yeesh. Is that okay to say?)

There’s plenty in this vein on how to handle a “no” from God. We know he is not a vending machine. We learn that sometimes perseverance in prayer is needed. We understand that God has his sovereign reasons, that he’s up to things above our pay grade. We accept the immense value of patience and suffering in shaping and refining our souls, in teaching us to rely on the giver rather than the gifts. It worked for Jesus (Hebrews 2:10).

To be in both worlds full

Is more than God was, who was hungry here

– George Herbert

And if we read Scripture with ice-cold objectivity for long enough, we eventually pick up the idea that, quite frankly, disappointment in our lives is sometimes the only thing that will keep our wandering hearts bound to God.

See, I’ve learned my lines.

Meanwhile, we broach the topic of miracles and answered prayers oh so gingerly. Certainly not with boldness. We’re too uncomfortable for that; it feels vaguely immature. Risky. You know what I mean. Perish the thought of that health-and-wealth business. We’re determined not to get our theology wrong, and that’s excellent, because we value getting Jesus’ words right (not always a fashionable practice).

But sometimes I wonder…

Are we just having a hard time hoping?

Are we just making excuses for our unbelief?

Are we just trying to muffle a voice deep down that’s wearily confessing, “I just don’t expect much from God. He doesn’t work that way anymore. Let’s just obey now and we’ll get heaven later.”

It occurred to me that I feel better equipped to handle a no from God than a yes.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.

“You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. (Acts 12:11-16)

It’s hilarious. The fledgling church is praying, but when God answers, there’s no confident grinning, no “yep, I knew he’d come through.” They’re floored. God supernaturally keeps Rhoda from bringing the evidence inside so that the story will record them almost resisting good news, coming up with alternative explanations. These downtrodden Roman citizens weren’t used to shining angels and chains falling off wrists.

I can relate. It’s not a “no” that would surprise me from God these days; it’s a “yes”.

How bad is that?

Miraculous events have taken place in my church in the last year and I hardly know what to do with it. God is moving powerfully through South Asia and I’m shaking my head like a dog getting out of the water. He really does this stuff?

But I know why. I’ve witnessed my share of “no’s”, as have we all. Perhaps it’s that disappointment that I’ve wrapped around myself like a cloak for my heart. It’s a practice that walks a very fine line between guarded heart (Proverbs 4:23) and lack of faith.

There are days when I need to read less about the lack of a miracle, and more about miracles.

Fortunately, Scripture’s up for that. Remarkable displays of power, signs and wonders –  Scripture loses vast swaths of its educational value to us if they’re no longer active. They’re for God’s glory, of course, for pointing people to him. But they’re also out of his generous heart and his desire to come through. Why cannot I simply sit back like a little child and let him…?

Like water sloshing back and forth in a pipe seeking its level, I find myself sliding back towards balance in God’s Word – its hope and its surrender.

I won’t accept a fortune-cookie Christianity that outdoes itself every week in predicting exciting new bombshells for your life and never presages anything bad. But neither am I going to truss up my heart in resignation and call it holiness.

How, Lord? How will my inner Rhoda convince the rest of my heart?

Through his Spirit. Only way.

So I will pray, study, and let God do the answering.

Who knows what will happen?

 

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Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Is Your Comfort Overflowing Along with Your Trial?

waterfallI’m grateful that our youth group is willing to talk about suffering. We don’t masochistically enjoy the topic, but as Paul wrote with intake of breath, we don’t want our students uninformed (2 Cor. 1:8). We can either warn them, or we can let them catapult into the world and discover gravity on their own. Pick your poison.

(It’s not like suffering is abstract to them anyway. In our era of family brokenness and instant access to news of the world’s powder keg, anxiety and trial are finding them. Getting into their homes, their pockets, their hearts.

They should never have had to deal with all this so young.)

Last night, we had a chance to get ahead of the game and cut off a common twisting of Scripture: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It’s a distortion of 1 Cor. 10:13, which refers to temptation, not trial. And it’s a not a trivial fudging. For when it’s trial’s turn, God will allow more than you can handle – purposefully.

For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life. Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

Sounds like more than he could handle.

trickle.jpgHasn’t that proven true for you by now? As one student said, “how do you grow unless God breaks your boundaries?” (I secured his permission to use that brilliant phrase in this post, and promised him a dollar.) This verse is unmistakably foundational in its description of the Christian life.

BUT!!!

As I sat in our circle last night, combing through this chapter while the students philosophized and giggled, one verse struck me differently. It was the fifth.

For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. (2 Cor. 1:5)

Overflows.

In a manner grammatically constructed to compare in intensity to the suffering – and written as a promise.

Would you say your comfort is…overflowing?

For much of my life, the comfort was merely a drip. A trickle. Maybe a rivulet. I dammed it up with self-pity, entitlement, despair. I let it take center view. The implosion of my family, the stress of the Air Force, a lot of social isolation for numerous reasons…it was a waterfall. The comfort did not match it.

And that is not how it should be.

6918284549_c37f2b073b_zDid God’s promise fail in my life? I say no. Just because you’re promised something doesn’t mean you possess it. There’s a real world we must still go through, and an enemy. I didn’t yet know how to go through my enemy, how to swing the sword.

Now I do.

Triggering the second waterfall starts with being prepared for the first. We pray. We worship despite our pain. We mix in some service, partially to alleviate others’ suffering and partially to get our own minds off things. We acknowledge God is not cruel, has not abandoned us, but remains faithful and is dispatching comfort our way. And that it will match our suffering.

Let us be raised from the dead. For we know that one day, at the trumpet sound, one of these waterfalls will dry up forever.

 

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Yes, You Learned Math You’ll Never Use After High School. Here’s Why.

mathI see it all the time – some character on the internet asking why they were taught (fill in the blank algebra) they never used after high school instead of (fill in the blank practical math like budgeting or taxes or mortgage math).

Having served in the teaching profession, this question is really mine to answer. I now oblige.

Beyond the fact that many schools do offer alternative courses in such math (I’ve taught them)…

…or the fact that practical math is far easier for someone to self-teach, so we reserve algebra for professionals…

…or lines like “it’s about problem-solving” or “we could use more trade schools” or “because federal agencies are dictating our content #lessgovernment #murica”…

…the answer is simple.

You learned math you’ll never use after high school – because your teachers believe in you.

You’re welcome.

Contrary to popular opinion, teachers have no crystal ball revealing exactly what each student will grow up to be. We have no way of knowing a future environmental researcher or mechanical engineer from a future office receptionist or restaurant manager.

And since we don’t know, teachers labor to equip students for as many choices as possible. Perhaps for when that space exploration video smacks your eyeballs in junior year and launches your imagination into overdrive, or when you read about that ecological crisis brewing in the Solomons and suddenly feel driven to find solutions. Darned if teachers are about to bar you from those possibilities by not teaching the basics.

Students might think we should know. “Can’t you see the loser I am? Can’t you see I have no capacity for that great stuff?”

No. We don’t. That’s not our job. Teachers believe in every human that sits before them – even when they don’t believe in themselves. How can they do their jobs with any passion otherwise? We will not count you out, even when you count yourself out.

Even if you do become a stay-at-home mom, had you chosen a path of research at Cal Tech, you at least had the option. That is not a waste of your time. For you were not a waste of their time. You may not have understood the lesson then, but it gives you limitless options later. 

You could say much the same of God – except he knows exactly where you’ll end up.

Perhaps you’re currently wondering, when on earth am I going to need these heartbreaking lessons I’m learning? Perhaps your current circumstances are stretching you to the breaking point, beyond what you thought you could bear. The fear and depression don’t lift. Money stays suffocatingly tight. The loneliness bears down like a fog. Month in and month out, year in and year out, no matter how many “things are about to change!” sermons you hear, nothing ever does.

Know that it is not in vain. Nothing on God’s blackboard smartboard is ever wasted. 

Imagine being admitted to a NASA engineering internship only to find out you haven’t the slightest math skills. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

God is averting you from that fate. He loves you fiercely and is arranging the strength and knowledge, professionally taught, that you will need for your destiny. When it arrives, you will be ready.

 

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Snow and Suffering Can Melt Fast

evergreen-1802157_1280The last two winters have been brutal.

More specifically, this last one was mild and forgetful of its job right up until February and then got brutal to catch up (reminds me of the Seahawks offense). Constant negative temperatures, almost daily blizzards. Considering my fifteen-mile daily commute, this was immensely tiresome. I’d say something melodramatic like “I nearly died three times a week in this weather”, except frankly we Montanans are so used to roadside near-death experiences that they’re routine now.

But I was amazed by this: weather can change awful fast.

Theoretically, fall and spring are transitional seasons. That’s not really how it works here. It’s summer, summer, summer, then BOOM maybe a week or two of something in between before the snow comes. It’s winter, winter, winter, then BOOM it’s pretty warm and the flowers start blooming.

All of a sudden, this week, the brutal cold just evaporated. The sun was suddenly shining, the average temperature jumped by twenty degrees, and not even the highest heaps of snow in parking lots are withstanding the healing radiation. It is melting swiftly, and soon the world will look as if winter never happened.

God can do this, too – with suffering.

Jesus heals people whose winter of discontent has lasted over a decade. It just comes out of nowhere. Long after they’ve exhausted every avenue and come to the end of themselves, these people find Jesus on their doorstep and dive for the hem of his robe. BOOM. No gradual change, just…sudden wholeness.

In Acts 3, Peter heals a man crippled from birth. The man had never even known how to walk, yet there he is after his encounter with Peter, leaping and praising God like he’d never missed a day of ambulation.

How surreal, how stunning such sudden transformation must have been!

God does not always bring such whiplash-inducing changes into our lives, but these stories serve to teach us that sometimes he does. And it needn’t be instantaneous to bring whiplash. Change that comes in weeks or months can be just as dizzying, just as joyful. As some say, “once God does move, he hits the throttle.”

God makes up for suffering. These people had remarkable faith to remember it, to dive for Jesus’ robe even after years of disappointment. May their example teach us.

Talking to a Generation in Pain

storm-3329982_640A childhood bouncing between foster homes, never once getting to stay and just be “gotten”.

The friend whose sibling just stopped talking.

Years of chronic pain from, of all things, falling out of a chair wrong.

This week has been a rough reminder of the valley through which an entire generation is slowly plodding en masse. My friends’ stories are piling up.

Feeling invisible because your siblings on either side get more attention.

Miscarriage.

An occupational disease from an employer that obscured working conditions to save money.

Loneliness – not just that of being single, but of being single without family or friends because of something “off” in the personality.

A denomination shifting doctrine (or shifting back) and leaving some behind, unsure of  their place in God’s kingdom despite how hard they’ve served.

Being attuned to poverty in every direction and unable to stop it all.

Coming home from the battlefield and wanting to end it all because of the carnage witnessed and the brothers left behind.

A knot of emotion, manifesting physically in the stomach, that just will not stop screaming lies hour after hour, week after week, year after year no matter what medication is tried.

And to top it all off, a Christianity that tells them – truthfully – that God has no obligation to make it end.

I would not pretend that previous generations have lived and died on a flowery bed of ease, but this is something else. Millennials are the grandchildren of the sixties. Enough said. Compound familial brokenness upon itself down through enough generations and you get…well, what we’re looking at now. God did say it would get worse towards the end. Even if that doesn’t explain all the trials I mentioned, it does make them harder to undergo.

And instead of love, only judgment often comes – “why can’t they just snap out of it?” Things like the recently revealed college admission scandals don’t help. The character problems of some give the entire group a bad name. Some of our pain, to be sure, is on us.

It’s tough to impart spiritual truth to millennials. Did you know that words like “glory” or “salvation” will shut some millennials down almost instantly? They’re priceless words, but the only thing they see is stern, detached buzzwords from a previous generation who don’t get what they’re going through. No, that’s not fair. No, I’m not willing to leave those words behind. But it highlights the difficulty of revealing Jesus to this group. Most want nothing to do with a God of pain.

We’re not dumb. We’re not (all) entitled. We’re not (all) seeking a victim complex.

But the swells do keep coming, and we’re tired of getting rolled.

A speaker I once heard said, “I believe the healing God wants to do in this generation is emotional.” Perhaps hearts, not issues of blood or withered hands, are what Jesus will pursue this millennium.

And perhaps we can be part of it. Consider God’s infinite patience for any person, his ability to convert even Paul to the side of the kingdom. If we simply embrace, listen, forgive, and weep with those who weep. Those are the foundation to the trusses of deep spiritual truth.

A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

No, Atheist, Faith Isn’t the Easy Way. It’s the Hard Way.

cliffEver seen a teacher accused of having it “easy”?

Having had my own classroom, I’m galled when people consider teachers overpaid for working 8am-9pm writing lesson plans, attending (or coaching) sports events, tutoring, meeting parents, re-decorating, supervising detention, and, yes, grading mountains of graffiti-ed tree product. However you feel about certain teachers, I assure you the good ones don’t bolt at the bell.

I feel somewhat similarly when some atheist announces that the Christian faith is easy. That we somehow settle for it, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, because it’s easier than changing our minds.

Behold this gleaming nugget:

“Believers are…easily trapped and continuously fooled by their own choice. Because it pacifies. It’s easy, and it’s comfortable.”

My jaw dropped. Then chortled at the absurdity.

Followed by a long sigh.

Easy? Comfortable?

The Christian faith is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve long been on my knees for a sister fighting cancer (three children in tow). My church is scrambling for foster homes for countless little ones without anyone to look after them. We’re not spared the statistics that report almost half the world living on $2.50/day.

We see it. Experience it. Far worse in some countries.

And in each case, the onus for progress lies on us.

The church steeple is no shelter from the age-old questions of “if God, why evil”. In fact, it serves as a lightning rod, bringing them straight to our hearts. We don’t get to avoid suffering or pass it off as senselessness or randomness – we’re taught to embrace it as growth and God-familiarization, to seek God’s purpose in it. Weekly we’re pushed to persevere, with no real guarantee of healing or breakthrough in this life. Nothing reminds me of my disappointments like stepping into church.

I don’t seek pity for all this. I have God.

But I do seek to educate, because I wonder if certain skeptics have ever spoken to a Christian in their lives. Comfortable?

The narrow path is one of self-denial, self-examination, and wrestling with the thoughts. Power and riches are pooh-poohed by Christ. Instead, we’re taught to love the unlovely, pray for enemies, and leave no motive unappraised. All the while, the world spins itself apart around us, seemingly deaf to the cries of the broken, oppressed, and collaterally damaged.

Can non-Christians live stoic, introspective lives? Yes, some do.

But I know few atheists (or Christians) who aspire to lofty standards like “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27). How do you explain why one would cling so tightly so a faith that denies him sex? Something tells me the sex drive is slightly stronger than The Comfort of the Status Quo.

Same with survival instinct. If the martyrs hint at anything, it’s that something more is behind Christianity. People don’t die for uncertainties.

That’s just two arenas, but none offer any less stratospheric a call.

There’s nothing easy about Christianity. The desire to cling to your upbringing is feeble next to the gale of livingit. Its tenets defy every human impulse, cut off every self-indulgence, and preclude the possibility of being the product of flawed human inertia. If I were making my own religion, it would look like anything but Christianity.

And that, skeptic friend, is a great part of how I know Christ is real.

 

 

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