Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Do People Suffer? Is Pain Meaningless?

Most of us have asked the question, why do people suffer?  Why would God take Dave away from being a pastor and helping others, why do any of us go through suffering?

We all know the Sunday School answers, and they’re good and true answers. God is refining our character, or God is going to use it for good, or God is teaching us or training us. But it’s hard to really be satisfied with those answers because we can’t see the outcome like God can—we can’t evaluate that it’s worth it.  As if a servant should evaluate his master’s plans.

Why isn’t it enough for us to know that God is sovereign, he is good, he loves us, he’s in control? We think we know God…until trials come.  Then we realize, maybe we don’t know him as well as we thought.  If we knew Him, we would trust Him, draw near to Him, rely on Him.  We push Him away, but we think He turns away from us.


When we go through suffering, it’s usually not by choice—but Christ chose to endure great pain on our behalf. In suffering, we have the gift of seeing more deeply how much Jesus loves us. This God who sought us and gave up so much for us, won’t abandon us now.


Michael Card has a beautiful quote: 
“The great promise of Psalm 23 is not that we will be saved from the dark valley, but that the Lord, who is our Shepherd, will remain close beside us even though the darkness might obscure Him from our view.”


I think we have the mistaken perception that God is going to save us from trouble, but over and over again, that’s not what the word says. He does of course sometimes. But Isaiah 43:2 says

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

If you are going through the fire, it’s not because God has abandoned you—he is WITH you in the fire!

Ken Gire shares a story in his book, The North Face of God. A man named David and his wife couldn’t have children, so they adopted a beautiful 4-day-old baby. They were filled with hopes and dreams for this child, but soon found something was wrong. The baby would stiffen whenever they held him. As he grew, he was diagnosed with learning disabilities and psychiatric problems. One doctor told them, when the boy was about 11, that he’d be dead or behind bars by the time he was 18. The parents refused to believe it, and continued to pour heart and soul into loving and discipling this boy, determined to find help and avoid that outcome, they spent years crying out to God…but the son got into drugs and did end up in prison.

David had a friend who also had a son in trouble, and they talked often. Exciting things were happening at his friend’s church—God’s hand was moving, and people were coming to know Christ—and finally even his friend’s son was turning back to God. But nothing changed for David. And he told his friend he couldn’t stand to hear one more miracle of Jesus story. It was too painful.

So then, a group of people from church decided to meet with David and pray with him, and they prayed together every week for a year and a half. They became his lifeline.

He did a 40 day fast and sought the Lord in every way he knew how, but his only answer was silence.

One day David decided to go to the prayer room at church and stay there until he heard from God. He was broken and at the very end of his rope, he was desperate. He waited for 5 hours, and then he finally heard God speak. And this is what God said:

“If I never heal your son, If I never speak to you the way you want…can I still be your God? Will you still love me, still honor me, still serve me?”

So often we believe the lie that God must not really love me, or He would change this circumstance in my life. Sometimes, that’s not in God’s plan, and we may not get to know why. We may not even be able to understand why. 

Can he still be your God?

I could easily be consumed by asking Why? It’s a good question, we should ask it, but we don’t always get to know why. The lack of answers can leave us feeling bitter and defeated and unloved. Instead, my very wise husband Dave has encouraged me to ask two other questions:

Who is God? And, how will I respond?

God doesn’t change when we suffer. He is still all-powerful, all-loving, just, merciful, holy—and he still cares deeply for us. He doesn’t abandon us—he is walking with us. In fact, he’s closer than most of us ever imagine.

Remember the story Jesus told about how he’ll separate the sheep and the goats at the end of the age? And he tells the sheep that they visited him when he was sick and in prison, that they brought him food and drink when he was in need—and the sheep were confused.  “Lord, when did we do this?”

His answer shows that God doesn't merely see our pain; He says that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt 25:40). That means…He is hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, along with us. When He says "never will I leave you, never will I forsake you," He means to impart a depth of love and grace and unity with our spirits that if we truly understood it, would take our breath away.

If that’s who God is…how will we respond? Isn’t he worthy of our all, even our suffering?

When I was younger, I used to think about how I was willing to live my life for God and give my all—never dreaming what might be required. He has come, asking for my all, asking for things dear to me like my husband’s health, and simple pleasures like going to church together. Good things, things I took for granted and never expected to give up—so how will I respond? I can kick and scream and throw a good ol-fashioned 2 year-old tantrum—and I’ve done that! Or I can lay down my life, like Romans 12:1-2 says, as a living sacrifice. God you are worthy.  


Romans 12:1 says, 
“I urge you, brothers, sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.”
The pain in our lives is never meaningless. We may not know why, but we can ask God to be glorified in our lives. We can remember that Christ thought we were worth suffering for, when we go through our dark nights. He is certainly worthy of our suffering. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Olympic Dream (Two-Man Bob-a-Luge)

 So there I was at the Olympic reunion party, when I suddenly realized, “Hey, I’m an Olympian!”  Yup, I won a bronze medal in the two-man luge.  Well, actually it was a combination of luge and bob-sled as I remember it.

You see, I just happened to be at the Olympics (because, you know, people just show up there without reason), when this big burly guy comes up to me.  I think I knew him; he seemed familiar.  Apparently, something had happened to his buddy at the last minute, and he was in desperate need of a new partner if he was to compete.  Being the happy-go-lucky person that I am, I naturally said, “Sure!”  Hey, I've been sledding before, why not?  Two-man bob-a-luge?  Bring it on!

“You don’t have to do anything,” he said as we worked our way to the top of the slide, “You sit and I’ll do the running.”  So I curled up on the back of the sled while he grabbed the bar and ran, then hopped on, bob-sled formation on the luge-style sled.  We won the bronze!  It was a proud moment.

This was my dream the other night.  I wouldn't have made much of it (other than to note I’m probably watching too much Bob Costas—a fact easily confirmed every day in school when our kids break out in another rendition of the Olympic theme song!), but someone jokingly suggested I analyze it.  This time I didn't slide down the ice-covered track so quickly, but it came to me later that God is very like that big burly guy.  He’s familiar.  He sometimes asks us to do crazy things like the bob-a-luge.  He has the plan, the course is slick and sometimes dangerous with lots of twists and turns—but He’ll be in charge.  He provides the speed and energy, the steering, and the sled.  And since my face is buried in His back, I might not always know what’s ahead.

God doesn’t say that we must be the best, that we must win—He says, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor 9:24)  He’s looking for our faithfulness: that we run with perseverance; that we don’t give up.

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”  I Cor. 9:25

The muscle we strengthen, train, race with, is faith.

 “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope…You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”  Gal. 5:5, 7

The truth, the supporting ligament-thoughts are critical to our faith, just as they are to an Olympian.  What is this truth we must cling to, that gets clipped by lies when Satan storms in like a soon-to-be-disqualified short-track speed-skater and sends us sprawling into the boards on our backs?  Righteousness comes through the Spirit, and not by human effort (Gal. 3:3)

Sometimes we doubt the surety of God’s faithfulness, of His never-failing loving-kindness, that He truly doesn’t count our sins against us.  We unwittingly fill our minds with a guilt that condemns—sometimes we lay sprawled on the ice, convinced of our own inadequacy and not accepting the hand up God offers.

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”  Col 1:22-23

This is our race, to firmly trust in the hope held out in the Gospel.  I think all of life requires Olympic level training for our faith—but chronic illness is surely an event that brings the necessity of that training to the forefront.

When I consider how my light is spent*
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts' who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
—John Milton

God doesn’t look at us as excess baggage when we ride with Him—He delights in us, and amazingly He shares the glory with us.  They also serve who only stand and wait.

“…The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” 1 Samual 30:24b. 

We finish the race, together.  And someday you’ll find yourself at that Great Reunion in the sky, and say with surprise, “Hey, I’m an Olympian!”

Still Running the Race, Merry


* Milton went totally blind in 1651 & wrote this ca. 1652.  By the way, the "one talent which is death to hide" is a reference to the parable of the talents & the servant who buried his talent instead of using it. What a struggle to want to use that talent instead, but be restricted. Also, "fondly" then meant foolishly, which makes more sense! (I fondly ask = I foolishly ask).


© copyright February, 2006

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Awards Presentation!

Presentation of Awards for Invisible Illness, Visible God
I'm honored and humbled to receive a Bronze Medal for the Devotional Category of the Illumination Book Awards. My husband Dave has been disabled by an “Invisible” Illness for 13 years now (he was eventually diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease). In fact, I find it staggering that nearly one in two Americans has some kind of invisible illness—something they deal with on a daily basis that others can’t really see, whether it’s cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, chemical sensitivities, or any number of other conditions.

Sometimes a diagnosis comes quickly, and other times we can search for years, trying to find out what’s wrong with ourselves or a loved one.  Either way, the answers can come as a crushing shock. One day our world comes to a screeching halt—but the rest of the world continues on, largely oblivious.

In some ways, many more of us have an “invisible illness.”  Not all hurts come with a diagnosis. Anyone who has lived with the pain of broken dreams, unmet expectations, the death of a loved one, regrets, fears, worries—has lived with a private pain that the world just can’t see.

But God sees. God understands. God cares. And Jesus continually intercedes and acts on our behalf with power.  He is:
…one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life…
~ Hebrews 7:16
When I first read this, I was blown away because I realized that since Jesus is in me, then this power of an indestructible life is in me, and I could rest in that power. Something more powerful than my emotions, a peace that passes understanding! And since we are in Christ—this peace is a sure refuge. This inspired me to write Invisible Illness, Visible God: When Pain Meets the Power of an Indestructible Life.

We are not powerless. 

Jesus is our priest on the basis of the power of an indestructible life—an immense power to overcome immense pain. On our own we drum up despair, depression, thoughts of death—and he comes to save us with life-giving power. God offers us the ability to walk through the flames and come out more beautiful. God enables us to choose life over death, and to choose love over bitterness. We are weak, but his power rescues us. He is the better hope by which we draw near to God.

Often we want the physical miracle, the visible one—and sometimes instead he makes himself and his love visible to us. Pain meets the Power of an Indestructible Life, full on, face to face—and God calls us to fix our eyes on him.

The power of an Indestructible Life

His love endures forever—Psalm 107:1
His faithfulness reaches to the skies—Psalm 108:4
His righteousness endures forever—Psalm 111:3
His salvation lasts forever—Isaiah 51:6
His covenant is everlasting—Ezekiel 37:26
He betroths us to him forever—Hosea 2:19
He puts his Name on us forever—1 Kings 9:3
His sanctuary is among us forever—Ezekiel 37:26
He lives with us forever—2 John 2
He will swallow up death forever—Isaiah 25:8
He reigns forever—Psalm 9:7
He gives us his Holy Spirit forever—John 14:6
His word stands forever—1 Peter 1:25
He remembers his covenant forever—Psalm 111:5
He is a priest forever, he has sworn!—Hebrews 7:21

Imagine—Jesus never, ever stops interceding for you, his beloved, his delight.  He uses the greatest, most extraordinary power that exists on our behalf, to be our priest, our intercessor, our guarantee, our hope. He could condemn us and instead betroths us and unites us with him.

Indestructible life.  Forever.  That is the surety, the rock, of his covenant with us.

His mighty power encouraged me in my darkest days, and I pray that you also will draw strength from his power.

Invisible Illness, Visible God: Illumination Bronze Medal Winner


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Run to Get the Prize

" Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

--1 Corinthians 9:24-25

With Bugler's Dream and Olympic Fanfare echoing in our minds for the next three weeks, we get to rejoice with the victories and groan with the defeats of athletes who have been preparing for years. They train mind and body to win a coveted prize, to push themselves to greater extents and discipline themselves to persevere through injuries and setbacks. Sometimes when one falls I feel a sympathetic pain in my knee or chest, sharing the impact with them. And when one overcomes severe odds, I can't help but feel my heart soar as they fly down their course or through the air, expressing freedom, speed, and artistry in the unique ways of their specific disciplines.

We, too, are in training. I'm meditating on Psalm 119 this month as I prepare for a study, and the Psalmist so eloquently expresses the passion and discipline we need as we train for our forever crown. His heart is fixed on God and his word--he rejoices, delights, and sets his heart on God's laws. God's statutes are his counselors, and God's goodness to him is his very life. When he is sucker-punched by life, he doesn't wallow, but keeps his focus--he knows the One to run to, the One who gives him strength and preserves his life--the one who sets his heart free.

Daily he does the active exercise that training and discipline require: he seeks the Lord and hides his word in his heart. He considers, chooses, learns, obeys, follows, praises, recounts the Lord's ways. He runs in the path of the Lord. His soul is consumed with longing for God's laws.

Does life seem mundane? Don't forget, we are in training, and we serve an amazing Lord. Be enthralled with him again. Does life seem overwhelming? Fix your eyes on the one who preserves your life when you are "laid low in the dust." Remember the one who answers, strengthens, opens our eyes, gives us life, and sets our hearts free. In him we truly soar.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

He has promised, we are his

"They will be my people, and I will be their God.  I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.  I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul."
~Jeremiah 32:38-41

Are there any sweeter words than the promise of our Lord..."They will be my people, and I will be their God."

He never stops doing good to us. He rejoices in doing us good! And when he inspires us to fear him...it is for our good, that all will go well for us, and so that we will never turn away. I like to remember that when times get difficult and my heart is downcast and weary...I am not alone. Even this, however bad it gets, he can use for my good. And if I stray and wander, as we are all prone to do...he will bring me back, and inspire me to fear him so that one day, I will never turn away. He will give us singleness of heart and action, so that we won't be divided in a million directions but focused on him in the busy-ness of life, his glory and grace giving us direction as we make decisions and choices.


We never walk alone.

He promises, with all his heart and soul. May we respond with our love and our praise, with all our heart and soul, and give him the honor due his name. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Illumination Award Winner! Invisible Illness, Visible God

The results of the 2013 Illumination Awards have been posted, and Invisible Illness, Visible God has won a bronze medal in the Devotional category!

"With the motto, "Shining a Light on Exemplary Christian Books," the Illumination Book Awards are designed to honor the year’s best new titles written and published with a Christian worldview."

I'm greatly honored that Invisible Illness, Visible God: When Pain Meets the Power of an Indestructible Life was chosen. We pray that others will continue to be strengthened and encouraged through God's word and the sharing of our journey.

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you..."
~ Ephesians 1:18