Good Friday: God’s answer to suffering

Good Friday. This day is a day unlike any other day in the course of human history. This day changed everything. This is the day God demonstrated the depth of His love. This is where God entered into the world of suffering, experienced the depth of what this fallen world has to provide regarding pain. He gave himself to such horrendous suffering so that there may be reconciliation. There are many who use the existence of pain and suffering to dismiss God. Some even consider a God who allows for the varied depth of pain to be a psychopathic despot lacking in love for allowing such. Love is then defined as sparing others from pain. Yet, in such thinking, there is a failure to grasp that God in his actions lead mankind a chance to be truly spared from pain. He took on pain so that in the grand scheme, any can be freed from the pain and suffering. Actions were given to change everything. It required God in the flesh, surrendering self to pain and depth to create a way. So he did meet that flawed definition of love, sparing others from pain. Yet, what God did was not a temporary answer but provide a chance for complete wholeness. Sure, the impact in this life, in this time, in this world of pain is not always immediately observed, but when you look beyond and past the temporary conditions we face, the reality of the depth and restoration provided at the cross is incredible. God gave us an act of love that brings us beyond the pain, beyond the suffering, and makes all things right.

Who Has a Target on Their Back

Last week this writer was involved in an accident where suddenly a semi-truck hit the rear end of his car on a highway sending the car spinning out of control.  No other vehicle was hit. A couple days after the accident this writer had a conversation was had with a friend and the thought was expressed that it felt like there was a target on my back.  Now granted the thought was a little dramatic but rooted in having been involved in a prior scary accident about five years earlier. There are also things that have happened in life while engaged in helping others grow and receive freedom.  The thought came to my mind that there is a concerted effort to do me harm.  Now before the reader begins to think this writer is developing paranoia or grandiosity or becoming too concerned with own scope in the grand scheme understand that there is a wider picture here. Sure, this writer may be targeted from harm by spiritual forces. It is a certain possibility. However, it is not isolated to this writer and it is not even isolated to believers in Jesus as Messiah and who surrender to Him as Lord.  The fact is everyone has a target on their backs.  Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”   Granted, the verse there is directed at believers. But it is just not believers that “the enemy” is seeking to destroy. It is all of humanity.  “The enemy” wants many harmed. In John 10:10 it states “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy” which indicates that all of us have a target on our backs.  And in other words, there is really nothing “special” about any of us and what we go through. It is part and parcel of living life and we are all targets for destruction.

Now that being said, yes, there are times when things happen in our lives where things go beyond coincidence.  And certainly engaging in the work of loving others and helping others overcome the pain, destruction, chains, and traps of the battle of life brings on difficulties the evidence an attack. But the attack has nothing to do with that person but more about who we serve, that we are servants of the most high God.  Now, given that the enemy seeks to destroy all God has given us directions.  We are to take every thought captive. He are to put on the “full amour of God.”  We are to be sober minded and alert. We are to be involved in tearing down strongholds by spiritual means.  We are to cast down imaginations. We are to stand firm and endure.   Our job is not to “defeat” an enemy but to bring people into God’s kingdom and save them from destruction.  Bad stuff happens. Periods of time where we catch the attention of the enemy do occur and has an impact, in other words stuff does happen. In all that we are to engage and endure and rescue others.  So, yes I have a target on my back, so do you, and so does everyone else.  Be about the business of loving and caring for others and point them to God’s kingdom.

Freedom House Update: A way to help Kingdom Pathways via IGive.com

It has been awhile since I have posted any updates regarding the Kingdom Pathways run homeless outreach program Freedom House. The governmental issues were able to be sorted at and cleared at a moment when all was about to be lost. Since that time the program has operational with funding primarily through U-Care insurance for men. The funding covers the bare basics and is volatile. There is ongoing need for help from others and donations can be made easily for details go here: http://www.kingdompathways.org/generosity.php.

Why does a program that gets insurance funding need help? Isn’t everything covered? The answer in short is no. Already funding issues that have put things in jeopardy have come up. The program is operating on a bare bones budget and there is need for more staff but there are budget limitations to hiring.

Also there is limits on the individuals served. Right now only those with one insurance provider are eligible. There is no source of funding for uninsured or other insurance options. Given the current budget one persons stay averages out to cost $3400 a month. So in order for one uninsured individual to be placed there would need to be that much income designated and assured.

The program is a faith based program so any material that builds up individuals spiritually needs to come from other sources than governmental funds. So donations for material and training to help facilitate healing and growth is extremely important and can only be done via donations.

Given the nature of insurance there can be funding lags due to technical issues that put program at risk of coming short of budget. God has provided up till now and will continue to do so.

Now one may be reading this but thinking “Hey I would love to help but I just do not have the additional money to give right now.” Well, there is a way that involves helping out in a small way that does not entail any new investment from you. It simply diverts a portion of what you purchase online to the non-profit you support. The only catch is that you need to download a “button” so that when you shop online there is recognition of the purchase and funds diverted. Just follow this link: I GIVE.  Sure the amounts are small percentages but every little bit helps. If you buy things online and want to help, this is easy.  If you follow the link and download the appropriate button, you can help each time you make a purchase. 

Whether you choose to help in that way or not, please do continue to pray each day for the program and the men in the program to reach freedom and healing from addiction and be set on the path of life.

Thanksgiving Day Musing: The Challenge of Gratitude

Here in the United States of America it is Thanksgiving. A legally mandated day set aside to express gratitude and give thanks. Being thankful is the order of the day. It is true that for ordinary day to day things it can be easy to forget to be grateful. We at times have to be reminded to count our blessings. It is important to not take those day to day and important matters for granted and to have and express gratitude. Sure, sometimes that may seem trivial and unnecessary so of is ignored but engaging in being grateful is good for overall wellbeing.
Now gratitude for the blessings is actually the simplest aspect of being grateful. There is a much more difficult challenge in having a grateful attitude. The real challenge of gratitude is not being thankful for our blessings. No, rather it is being thankful for that which is unpleasant. It is being grateful for harm done. It is being grateful for pain and suffering. It is being grateful for loss. None of those areas are where one is able to be naturally grateful. Gratitude in such events is contrary to our own inclination. It is very tough yet that is what the Bible directs of each of us. The Bible directs us to “rejoice in the Lord always”(Philippians 4:4) not just when I feel good about things. The Bible directs us to “Give thanks in all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20) not just be thankful about what is good for self. It is not be grateful for good stuff and curse the occurrence of bad stuff. It is in all things be thankful. So why does God gives us such direction? Be thankful about bad things happening, really? Wow! Pretty challenging!
The reason why God directs us to do so is it is taking focus off of self and onto God. No matter what occurs if the focus is being thankful the focus is taken off self. It is important to note that it is not really being thankful about the events, the good or bad things that happen. The thankfulness is something that is beyond what is happening for it is not about such things. Rather, our being thankful is about God and who He is. It is growing in awareness of the goodness and love of God. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.” (Psalms 107:1) Our thankfulness is about God, not about self. True thankfulness in all things takes one away from the ups and downs of life to the constancy of God which is always good. And it is with God’s aid that we are able to enjoy and endure whatever may occur for with God all things are possible. So, today, be Thankful, in all things, and where you cannot turn it over to God and ask Him to help you to be thankful: for God is good and His does endure forever; embrace it; be thankful!

God’s ways are not our ways

In the midst of the quietness of this blog God has been at work including within the life of this writer. The center point of the growth lessons comes down to some simple words that have great depth. 

 God’s ways are not my ways.

God states the fact that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways in Isaiah 55:8.  He establishes that there are differing perceptions and directions. God says he does what He does with His intent and purpose and that it differs from our own.  We can be convinced of something and pursue a direction. We can do what we think is right. We can have best intentions. Yet, God can have something else going on. In this writer’s life there was a moment where convinced that a small group of post college young adults could be turned into a ministry. It went the other way.  Perceptions differed and God worked as he did in that moment of time but not to create some bigger ministry.  In this writer’s life there have been ideas of going to “Christian graduate school” or work in “Christian environments” that did not happen, or at least not happen as thought. Yet, in it all God had  His ways and His thoughts and His intent.

 Now here is a piece of reality. Our own thoughts and ways are self-focused.  We get  wrapped up in our own thoughts and ways, in how we think things should be.  Even when following God and trusting his promises we get sidetracked by the ways of self.  If you read the Bible you will find countless stories of people going about their own way and having their own thoughts and not trusting God or trying to bring about God’s seemingly too long delayed promises on their own. See we turn to our own ways because we think we know best or think we have the best understanding of what is best for ourselves. We have time frames on when it should be accomplished. We often live in the moment of what is happening now without the full recognition of God doing what He intends.

See God always accomplishes what He intends. In Isaiah 55:11 it is made clear that God’s words, what He puts into being always accomplishes what He desires. God’s words do not return void, ever. What he sets in motion will not be stopped, ever.  Now sometimes it may take a long time. Sometimes it may appear differently than it is. We may not always see or understand how God is accomplishing His word and His way, but what God sets out to accomplish, He accomplishes.

Yet, we often miss those facts as we are focused on what we think is good for self. He have our plans or ideas. Even in following God we can try and achieve what God put forward by our own efforts and ideas.  Our ways and thoughts need to grow each day in aligning with God’s ways and thoughts. We need to trust God always does what He says. Always.  What is best for us in spite our own ways and thoughts and the leanings of our evil hearts is growing ever more in line with God’s ways and thoughts. Now, that is the truly difficult part because it involves giving up of self, of our ways and thoughts. We want to grasp on to what we think we need tightly. God tells us even the result of a grasping.  Luke 9:24 (ESV) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  What then is needed is the giving up, the letting go of our preferred directions and thoughts about the way things should go. We needs to simply look to be each day more in line with God’s ways and thoughts. This is ongoing, day to day, letting go of self.

Musing on Remembrance

Today is a day marked of remembrance of a fateful day when two towers fell in New York city. On this day the memories of the darkness and the evil on man can inflict on another are prime. Remembrance is importance. This blog is not going to reflect on any aspects of that fateful day but rather discuss the ongoing importance of the act of remembrance. It is some God directs us to do and is important to any level of moving ahead and growing. Often we want to forget dark and painful things. Yet, there are important things to bring to attention, primarily the ways God moved.

God directed others over and over to remember. First of all to remember Him and His promises as we can often forget. We can become dull of mind and caught up in varied aspects of life and we can forget. God knows our tendency to forget. He directed Israel on several occasions to set up memorials and altars to remember what God has done. He established festivals in Israel such as Passover that focus on remembering what God has done. These things can be easily forget or even set aside off in some dusty corner of our lives and mind. We need to remember. There is restoration and healing in healthy remembrance. Any healthy remembrance is focused on what God did, is doing, and has promised to do. So take time, reflect and consider what God has done, is doing, and has promised. Look back on that fateful day eleven years ago and look at how God dealt with you then, where are you know, and where are you going. As you remember let God move in your heart and deal with whatever needs to be dealt with and surrender whatever comes to light to him. And when you do, when you remember, then praise God, for whatever has been gives chance for God to reveal Himself and each memory is an opportunity to give God praise and glory. Even in the darkest of memories and time.

Musing on Facing Threats and the Care of God

Personally things have been emotionally draining the past week. Emotions have been raw and anxiety has come easily. The reason for the anxiety is related to some current ongoing threats of loss. Things important to me are at risk. It does not really matter what the risks are, but they are there. However, the things that are at immediate threat are the potential loss to the state of Minnesota if politicians do not approve a stadium. The other threat is to our dog’s health and well being. She developed a cancerous skin tumor that most likely is benign. However, it is still a threat and anxiety producing. See, these are things that personally there are deep care and attachment. When what we care about is at risk, our emotions become volatile with anger and anxiety there easily. Questions come about whether these things that are cared for have too much importance or the care has reached the point of idolatry. Yet, idolatry comes when things cared for are things from which we draw life. They become so important that nothing else matters. God created us to love and care. He wired us to develop attachments. God has given us directions to deal with such threats. Psalms 55:22 (ESV) sates “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” And 1 Peter 5:7 (ESV) states
“casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” The verses shows a simple step. Turn over what we care about to God and trust him. God will see us through whatever the threat. God does not promise that there will not be loss. God promises to sustain us, and to look out for our welfare regardless of what happens. God simply directs us to present our request to him. Philippians 4:6 (ESV) states “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We are directed to ask God about the things we care about but have an attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude. Thanksgiving is important here, because God gave us things to care about. Be it a pet, be it a sport team, be it family or whatever else we care about. God gave us these things. So whether there is loss or the ability to continue to care, we are to be thankful for what God has given and allowed. Loss may or may not happen, yet what God has given is good. Yet, God allows threats and difficulties. Life is an ongoing battle with pain, suffering, and loss constantly lurking. God directs us to stand firm and endure. He asks us to submit to Him, to acknowledge Him, to depend on Him. When we do so, he will sustain us and at the right time, raise us up, not because of anything of our own regard, but because we turn to Him. It is easy to get lost and distracted in the things we care for and we can easily make them more important than God in our life. However, the treats of loss are not related to anything out of proper alignment, rather such times allow us to evaluate and examine where our affections lie and what we look to for life and strength. Even when nothing is out of alignment, God still allows for loss and tests, for it draws us to Him and allows Him to work and show us His love for us, by working as He will in the matters that we care about. This is why God wants us to direct our request to Him and depend on Him, for it gives Him opportunities to demonstrate His love for us. Whatever the results God shows He cares for us. Romans 8:28 (ESV) states “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” God does not promise that everything goes according to our will, just that He works it all out for good. The good ultimately comes from God demonstrating His love and care in whatever way he will in the circumstances of life and what we care for. God works when we give him opportunity to do so, and that work is ultimately building us up in His love, whatever may occur. So, in my life there may be loss, or loss may be stayed. Yet, God will be faithful in all. That being said my requests before God is for the football team to remain in Minnesota and for my dog, Bella, to not have her life in jeopardy due to some cancerous skin cells. Yet, whatever happens God will demonstrate His love for me, because He does care for me, far greater than my care for a sports team and a pet.

Holy Week Musings: Palm Sunday- Evaluate Expectations

Today, 4/1/2012, is celebrated as Palm Sunday. It is the day Jesus made is triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt and people laid palm fronds before Him proclaims Hosanna. Jesus came to Jerusalem for Passover and excitement was buzzing. He had raised Lazarus from dead and taught from the Mount of Olive. People were excited about what Jesus was about to do. They eagerly expected that the tyranny of Rome would be shaken off and that Jesus would take his place on David’s throne to rule as Messiah. On that day, many years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem in the way that scripture prophesied Messiah would enter Jerusalem. The buzz that day had to be immense and it culminated in a huge spontaneous celebration. Palm Sunday was in essence really the first flash mob, only there was no planning involved, it just happened. People were excited. God was about to change everything and life would soon be better for all. Unfortunately, they missed the reality. Yes, God was about to change everything, just not in a way that matched expectations. Rather, God moved in a greater way that was beyond improving our life now, but rather making a way for all to be made right, fully. For Jesus did not lead a revolution or take the throne. He did not destroy Rome and life was not going to be any different. Now certainly the throngs and cries of the people had to bring temptation to invoke the plan of doing whatever to make life best for now. He could have taken the throne and undid of Rome but that would have missed the point of undoing what had been done. Adam had put all of creation under a curse of sin by one action. Jesus by one action made the way of restoration and redemption. He made it possible for man to be in direct relationship with God. He suffered greatly to bring freedom.

People expected and wanted one thing but God had something else in mind. Today, often times we are not any different than the Palm Sunday crowd. We want God to make our life best in the moment. We are focused in what God is doing for me know. We get upset if God doesn’t somehow bring circumstance to our liking. Personally, I have had my own expectations shattered at times and it did lead to periods of great anger and sin. God didn’t do things the way I thought He should. See our expectations are dangerous things and are usually wrong. Our expectations are based on our view of the world and what we think is best in the moment. Our expectations come out of our selfishness. Life doesn’t play out in accordance with what we think is “our best life now.” Things do not work out in accordance with what we want. And if we get what we want, the how we get there is usually not the way or path chosen on getting there. The story that plays out in life is never what we expect and always filled with surprises. There are many reasons for the many twists and turns of life that run contrary to even the most honorable of expectations.

So does that mean we should not have expectations? No, but we need to be constantly evaluating our expectations and desires. We need to continually be submitting whatever we expect or want before God. We need to exam self and the motives behind what we expect. We need to continually pursue God and his truth and change our own perspective to line up with His perspective. We need to move beyond the momentary and temporary and be open to whatever greater has in store. Ultimately, God meets our wants, desires, and expectations. When God does act, He acts in ways that far exceed whatever we could hope or imagine. Just like God’s plan of redemption truly met the needs of all who are willing to accept it. God had a better way. This remains true to this day. So, take time to examine where you are at, what you expect of God, what you expect with others, and what you expect of self. Examine all in light of scripture and ask God to direct paths and steps, even if things to do not go the way you expect. For Gods ways always exceeds expectations, even if we do not grasp it.

Musings on the Tragic Life and Death of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston died tragically on February 2nd, 2012. Much has been written and examined related to the life and death of Whitney Houston. Many thoughts and statements have been made regarding Whitney. Some have even commented on her standing with Jesus, easily concluding that she rejected Jesus. Barry McGuire made such statements in an opinion piece: http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2012/s12020066.htm suggesting that Whitney rejected the judgmental Jesus of the fundamental church. However, personally not really certain that Whitney rejected Jesus as she has given performances singing boldly of Jesus love including the snippet of her short duet with Kelly Price and the performance in Brazil in 1994 that are readily available on YouTube.

She knew of the love of Jesus. She grew up learning of the love of Jesus at New Hope Church pastored by Joe A. Carter. Her first solo performance was at age 11 when she sang “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah.” So she knew and was exposed to the love of Jesus and personally don’t think her story is one of rejecting Jesus, but rather getting lost and distracted by the things of this world and looking for love in places other than Jesus. She was hurt and turned to things that lead to death led by her own desires. While Whitney grew up in the church, she also group up in a family that valued music and entertainment. Her mother was Cissy Houston. Her cousins were Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick, and Darlene Love. Her honorary Aunt was Aretha Franklin. Music was central to her family and Whitney Houston was created and gifted with a beautiful voice. Her voice opened doors and brought her fame and fortune. However, all that she received did not fulfill her and she was lost and hurting. Yet, at the base level she knew of Jesus love. However, that knowledge appeared to be something that she knew intellectually but did not experience at the core of her being. She knew of the love of Jesus, but did not seem to experience it.

There is a reason that Whitney Houston gravitated toward the simple song, Jesus Loves Me. The words state “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And that appears to be the level of Whitney’s knowledge of Jesus love. She was told it was true. She sang of the truth but her experience of it was limited. It is clear that Whitney craved deeply love. Her words deeply touched on the human perspectives of love and longing, yet ever missing the true love. Yet, at core she knew that Jesus was where there was true love, yet couldn’t break from the pain and loss and hurt coming from the wounds caused by others. She got hooked into the poison of alcohol and drugs that give momentary relief of those pains, yet she did not experience the healing of Jesus love in this life. She walked a path that lead to death and fully embraced the poison.

Whitney is really not any different than anyone else, other than being famous. She experienced hurt and pain. She wanted love, but what she experienced didn’t measure up. She lived a life that pursued her desires and she was able to have a lot of her desires fulfilled. However, one desire was not fulfilled, to be able to live free from pain and experience love deeply. She craved, it wanted it, sang beautifully about it, yet she did not let the words of her first solo be her path. She chose her own way and it came easy, for she had “THAT VOICE.” We also readily choose our own way and pursue the things that come easy. We go after our desires and do not surrender to God or look to Him for strength. We also at times only have knowledge that Jesus loves us because of what we are told. There is more. Jesus love is real and can be experienced. Jesus love is beyond measure. It can touch one beyond the deep levels of pain and hurt living in the fallen world brings. We all too often go ways that seem right to us, that give us all we think we want but in reality ensare us and trade the promise of love into pain as the promise turns to a cruel and abusive master.

So there is much to be learned from the life and death of Whitney Houston. We all have a story and paths to choose. We can follow God and surrender or we can walk the path of self. Each path has pain and joy. Each path has difficulties. One path leads to full life, one leads to death. Whitney is one of many who only grasp things at a superficial level and go looking for the answers in ways that seem right but are death. Our natural inclination is to choose paths that do seem right, yet are our own destruction. The choice to follow God is always difficult for it involves given up of what I think I want, for we fear giving of self will result in being denied goodness and pleasure. However, it is only truly in the giving of what we think we want that we can receive all that is of good. Whitney missed out in this life, for she walked the path of self. Walking the path of God brings more than can be imagined but it requires all, but in that is true goodness, pleasure, and life. So please, take time and lament the death of Whitney Houston, then examine own life. Open up to surrender to God and being able to truly experience the love of Jesus so it moves beyond knowing about it because one was told about it, but rather that love is experienced moment by moment.

Valentine’s Day Musing: Some thoughts on love

Today, 2/14/2012 is Valentine’s Day. It is a day where love is celebrated. It is day special attention is giving to doing what we believe will let those around us we care about know how much we care. We express love in a variety of ways through words, deeds, and gifts. Every person wants to love and be loved. It is something deep within each of us. God created us in His image, and thus the giving and receiving of love is part of who we are. The moments we experience of love, the moments we give love reflect God. Sadly, our love is imperfect and clouded in our own wants and desires. We love, not simply to love, but to be loved. When we fail to experience love in the ways we perceive we should be loved, we get hurt. Even when experience a touch of love, it does not satisfy. It is not enough. None of us are capable of loving as God loves, we all falter. None of us love purely or are purely loved by anyone else. We all have a skewed view of love.

God did demonstrate pure love. We find that love at the cross of Calvary where God in human flesh took on all of human suffering and frailty and providing the way that can save all those that accept His love, truly. Yet, some how we do not really grasp that love. Even those who have believed that God expressed love in such a way so as to enable relationship with Him, we fail to grasp. God’s love is far greater than we can comprehend. We get focused on what we experience. God often feels like this great “other” who lives a “way up there” and fails to act. Thoughts come to mind that if God is love, why does he seem so distant? Why is he not active in the world to reduce the pain we experience? Why does he allow bad things to happen. We does he not prevent unloving actions. Why does he not stand in way of all evil? How can God stand in the midst of great pain and sadness without doing anything to relieve it? Wouldn’t real true love always give what is right and never generate or allow pain? We just do not grasp love at all.

What we fail to grasp, is love is not about the momentary, the instantaneous. Love is not about getting what we think we need. Love is not about being flattered and showered with all that is good. No love is the giving fully of all in the midst of where we are. God has given us words to know love is not really about all that feels good. We quote those words often, they are used in weddings and even included in Valentine’s day cards. Take a good read over 1 Corinthians 13 and pay particular attention to verse seven. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That verse does not speak to the absence of difficulty or pain. It does not speak to giving others whatever they think they want. The verse speaks of giving a covering, holding firm, building up in the midst of pain, moving forward in the midst of whatever may be happening. Good, bad, or ugly love bears, believes, hopes, and endures. Love is persistent in all times and circumstances.

While our understanding and grasp of love is flawed, what we do grasp and experience reflects God who is love. Not our twisted concept of love based on whatever we think is best for us, but rather love that knows each of us intimately and knows what benefits us, knows even how what we experience will enable us to grow in love. He knows each one, each moment of failed love. He experiences that pain. He knows the depth of the failures in love, yet still what is of love is greater. God has shared that the impact of love in our lives is far greater than any wounding. For in God’s love is all safety, all security, and there is no lack even if we do not experience it in the now. So take time to think about love, think about the people God has brought in your life that touched you for the good and enabled you to experience love, even if you did not get it at the time. Seek to grow in love, for compared to God, our love is but of a child and driven of self but a time is coming when we will mature in love and demonstrate that to others. Our actions of love, however imperfect, always matter.