Wednesday, April 17, 2013

God is Listening

This is the second time within five months that I’m writing a blog in response to a violent tragedy.  Like what took place in December at Newtown, CT, I am equally horrified and shocked by the sadistic bombing that took place at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15!  How can people make bombs and fill them with shrapnel with the sole purpose of inflicting as much death and damage on others as they can?

All of us here at St. Mark join our hearts in praying for those families and individuals who are suffering, especially those three families who have lost loved ones.  Our hearts go out to them and we will continue to daily lift them up in our prayers. 

But tell me, do you ever feel as if God isn’t listening?  When you pray to keep people safe and then a tragedy happens, like Boston, do you feel as if God is ignoring you?  When you pray to be healthy and then you’re told that you have cancer, do you feel as if God is punishing you?  When you pray for forgiveness and yet you’re constantly reminded of your sin, do you feel as if God is condemning you?

Rest assured that if you have a relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ, He not only is listening to you, He’s answering you.  He promises, “Call upon me in the day of trouble.  I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15).  Notice that God doesn’t just promise to listen.  He promises to answer.  He promises deliverance.  Of course, sometimes, His version of deliverance is a bit different than ours.

We want to be delivered from pain.  God wants us to be delivered from evil.  We want to be delivered from hardship.  God wants us to be delivered from eternal hell.  For that reason, God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want Him too.  When we pray, God will answer “yes”, “no” or “wait” depending on what we need, not just what we want. 

If He sees that our continued suffering will bring us closer to Him and closer to heaven, guess what?  We’re going to continue suffering.  If He sees that our continued tragedies will lead us to have opportunities to witness our faith, guess what?  He’ll keep using those tragedies to accomplish His purpose of bringing people to heaven.

That puts a different spin on events like the bombing at Boston, doesn’t it?  Events like that lead us to cherish our loved ones even more.  Events like that lead us to realize our life is short.  Events like that lead us to realize that we need to act now.  As Christians, you and I have the only message that promises true, lasting deliverance from trouble.  We have the message that Jesus is the only Savior.  As our Savior He took all of our trouble, all of our pain, all of our death that we deserve to the cross.  He did that so that by His death and His resurrection from the dead, we are forgiven, at peace, and destined for heaven by faith in Him.

That undeniable fact is the ultimate answer to our prayers.  It doesn’t matter how much trouble we have in this life.  It doesn’t matter how much pain we experience.  Life in heaven is awaiting us, because Jesus is THE answer to our prayers!  In heaven, there will be no more pain, nor bombs, nor sin, nor guilt, nor death.  There will be only life, love and perfection. 

Tell me, isn’t that something worth thanking God for?  So the next time you pray for something, remember God loves you so much He’s not just listening.  He’s answering…according to HIS will…for your eternal good!

Please join me in this prayer: Father in heaven, be with those who have been affected by the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Please be with the families whose loved ones have died.  Comfort them with your promise of life over death for all who believe.  Help those who are hurt.  Guide the doctors and nurses who care for them.  And in all things, your will be done.  We trust your promise that you will work good from this.  You are a powerful and gracious God who always answers our prayers according to what we need.  Amen.

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Embrace Grieving and Loss

Grief and loss will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. -Peter Scazzero in The Emotionally Healthy Church

In prosperous North America, our issue developing is that we don’t have the ability to face pain. We spend too much time trying to get our own way, get life just right and then keep everything as it is. When loss enters we become angry with God and treat the loss as a crazy alien from outer space. But what happens to us is the norm and not the exception of living in the ‘real’ world. Loss is the norm of life, not the exception. It is possible to live through it and even grow from it but only by the grace and power of God. At the funeral of a friend, Jesus shows us how. (Read John 11:1-16)

In John 11 Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was so sick that they called Jesus away from his ministry to come and help. Jesus had dined at the house of these women, reclined at their table, and was their friend. Jesus loved them but he didn’t answer their prayer right away.

Jesus knew, according to Verse 4, that this sickness will not end in death but it will be for God’s glory. Jesus is confident in his Fathers will as he walked with the light of his Fathers plan. He is not ignoring the issue as it may first appear – he does tell his disciples he will go and wake up Lazarus but according to his Father’s time frame. Here we find the first key to embracing grieving and loss: Step back a moment, Pay attention to God’s (revealed) bigger plan (Jesus obviously having a bit more insight here) and pay attention to the issue causing you grief. He didn’t ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen. At the proper time faced what was grieving him. (Read - John 11:17-37)

This is a glimpse at the tender heart of our Savior. At the grave of his friend, even while trusting his Father’s plan perfectly he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled and Jesus wept. Jesus could have just medicated his pain to make it go away with: alcohol or drugs, he could have thrown himself at his work (he had plenty to do), he could have gone shopping, went on a food binge, been too busy to go to the tomb, he could have filled the hole of the emotional loss of a friend with sexual escapades – Jesus could have done anything else to medicate the pain of life. He could have easily said at Lazarus’ tomb, “Get a grip, get over it, stop all the moaning, I got this.” Instead he paid attention to his very real human condition that needed to grieve loss. It is not a sin to cry. It does not mean you’re less stable but may actually mean that you’re becoming crafted into more of a godly person than you were before.

Jesus expressed prayer with cries and tears. Jesus came to engage life fully and not to escape its reality and so he even experienced a funeral of a friend who seemed to be taken too soon. He paid attention to God’s plan and also his real need to mourn. He was able to do this because he took the time to wait in the confusing in-between. Even though Jesus was only 2 miles away he waited at least 4 days to come to see Lazarus and Mary and Martha. There were at least 4 days for Jesus to ponder, grieve, raise self doubt, and have a change in reaction. The waiting during the confusing in-between was significant for Jesus and his disciples and also for us. It teaches us to take the time while paying attention to grief to actually mourn, cry, and be moved inside. If Jesus Christ can do that you too have permission to let the grief and loss in. The time between is when we are forced against our will to wait. It sometimes means years. Don’t rebel or despair but embrace the gift of waiting. Wait in the confusing in-between of mourning and establishing a new normal to see how God is shaping you. (Read – John 11:38-44)

In tragedy, sadness, extreme loss Jesus lifts his head in prayer and allowed the old to birth something new. When you release whatever you are grieving about into the hands of God it is amazing what God can do with it. You don’t receive what you had before. You can never go back. Life will be different. Painful memories don’t really ever become forgotten memories but the old births something new by the grace of God. Through this account of Lazarus, Jesus shows his power over death. Here is tangible proof that Jesus is who he said he is. Many were brought to faith in God. Ironically this miracle also led some Jewish leaders to begin their plotting and planning to kill Jesus (John 11:45-52) – which was part of God’s plan to get Jesus to the cross to pay for our sins and conquer the grave by rising from the dead. All that good from what at the beginning seemed like some more of the garbage life throws at us.

This final piece of the account reminds me of a good ol’ compost pile. When you cover through the smelly banana peels, rotten tomatoes, and wretched leftovers with dirt you wait long enough, the garbage will actually start to smell wonderful and through the compost fertile soil is produced that provides fruits and vegetables. In our own life, in the grief we face, we too can allow the old to birth something new. Sometimes it takes years. God transforms evil into good even through grief and pain. 

How might God be shaping you through pain and loss?

Can what seems painful and bad still be considered good?

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor