Monday, July 14, 2008

Never Alone

In Part One of this blog, I discussed the idea of whether or not God SENDS trials on his children to test our faith. In this blog I want to talk about where God is in the midst of our dark times.

Lets come back to the idea of Jesus on the cross. Jesus, overwhelmed with all that he is bearing, feeling isolated, cut off and alone. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Jesus knows what it is like to be overwhelmed in the darkness and feel like God is a million miles away. He can empathise and understand me, when I am in this place. He has been there and he came out the other side. Even though Jesus felt alone, God was still there. The beauty of this scripture is in the next part: “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Who is this God that we worship in our dark times? The one who sits on a throne of grace. The one who has walked in our dark places and is the light that shines in the darkness.

Isaiah 54 is a favourite scripture for me … let these words from vs 11-12 soak into your spirit:
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord who has compassion on you. “O afflicted city lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and your walls of precious stones.”

Where is God in this? He is with us, in us, and working in the darkness to bring forth something beautiful.

Most of us know the scripture from Isaiah 40 – “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” Have you ever considered the context of this scripture? Right before this, God is talking to the Israelites. Basically they are complaining that God is disregarding their issues, that he does not see them and is not involved with where they are at. Wah wah! Ever been there? God’s response to them is, “do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth …” (whoa! What did we look at in 1 Cor 10:13? God is the creator God who can make something out of something! He knows and he has a plan. His ways might not be our ways, but he has a plan and he is involved.) He goes on to say, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…” Wow. Hope for the hopeless. Hope for those of us struggling in the dark, wondering where God is. This is the pattern all through scriptures … to just take a few:-

Is 41:17 “The poor and needy search for water – I will answer them – I won’t forsake them.”

Is 42:6 “I will take hold of your hand”

Is 42:16 “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth … I will not forsake them.”

Is 43:2 “When you pass through the waters I will be with you, when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you …”

Is 44:6 “he restores our ruins …”

Is 45:3 “ I will give you the treasures of darkness – riches stored in secret places …”

Is 45:5 “I will strengthen you …”

Is 46:4 “I made you, will sustain you and rescue you …”

I could go on and on but by now I am sure you get the point. Where is God is our darkness. Right there with us.

Who is this God that we worship in our dark times?

Jehovah – Our Redeemer

Jehovah Jireh. This actually means "the one who sees". God sees it all – as Alpha and Omega, he sees the beginning and the end. Nothing we go through is a surprise to him. Therefore, he has a plan. He will provide a way out.

Just like David realised in Ps 139, “if I make my bed in the depths you are there, if I rise on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, even there, your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (vs 8-12)

Are we all alone in the darkness?

No … we are never alone.


Group Singalong: All by myself, don’t wanna be … all by myself …”

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Dark times come to all of us … those seasons where we can’t see God, we can’t sense him and we cry, as Christ did on the cross, “My God, My God … why have you forsaken me?” I have heard many a sermon that says Jesus cried out because God turned his back on him. If you look back at the three gospel accounts that mention this scene, we do not find scripture that supports this. Could it be that Jesus in a moment of humanity, with the weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders, in the agony of the cross, immersed in darkness, could no longer see God? Could it be that in our dark times, when we lose the awareness of God, and it feels like he is a long way away, that he is actually right there with us and has not forsaken us at all?

All too often, those going through hard times hear well meaning words from other Christians … words designed to comfort, that instead inflict further pain … words such as, “well, God is testing your faith and won’t let you go through any more than you can handle.” When we hear statements such as these, sermons about God turning his back on his Son, or go through dark times, it can cause us to wonder, “Just who is this God that we worship?” Lets look a bit closer at this.

God Will Never Allow Us To Go Through More Than We Can Handle
Firstly, lets look at the scripture that this idea comes from. 1 Cor 10-:13b says, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

God won’t let us be WHAT? Tempted. This scripture is not about our trials and hardships. It’s about temptation! The context of 1 Cor 13 is Paul discussing the various temptations that the Israelites had succumbed to. Nevertheless, lets break down this scripture. In our dark times, we can be tempted and there are some principles here that we can take to heart.

Faithful comes from the Greek word “Pistos”. This means “worthy of trust”. We can take that idea into our hard times. God is worthy of our trust. I will deal with this idea more fully further on.

Tempted comes from the Greek word “Peirasmos”. This means, “a trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy – an enticement of internal temptation to sin.” It can also mean, “adversity, affliction and trouble that tests one character” but this is clearly not the context of 1 Cor 13.

Provide A Way comes from the Greek word “Poieo”. This means, “make ready, make a thing out of something.” I LOVE this idea! God takes something that exists and then makes something new! He is the creator God – endlessly creative. Not only does he create great things out of nothing, he takes something already in existence and can make something new out of it! We don’t have to be able to handle the situation. It is God’s job to handle it. It is our job to look to and lean on him. How full of hope and promise is that when are walking through tough situations?!

God Sends Trials To Test Us.
This idea implies that God is the author of our misfortune. This is not the God I know! My God is not a God who sends horrific tragedies on his children and watches impassively to see if we pass the test.

In The Shack, God tells Willy the following:
"Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colours."

We live in a fallen world … a world where there is sickness … a world where there is evil and a world where bad things happen to good people. Does this mean God sent these things? No! Do these trials and tragedies test our faith? I would have to say, “yes!” These are the very fires through which our faith is tested and proven … but not tested like a classroom test. Instead our faith is tested in the manner of precious metal. The fire burns away the dross and gets down to the core.

James 1:2-4 says that we are to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many different kinds, because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. It goes on to say that perseverance must finish its work in us so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.

Be very careful about how you handle this scripture with those going through hard times. Do you get to tell the newly wed who just lost his wife to consider it joy? Do you tell the woman who just saw dearly loved friends shot and killed by evil men while she sheltered her husband and child, that God is testing her? No. Can God bring good out of this? Yes. He is the creator God. He can work good in all things and take that which was meant to destroy us bring good out of it.

If we break down this scripture, we get a little more insight:

Testing comes from the Greek “dokimion”, which means proving. Our trials do test and prove our faith, but as mentioned earlier, this does not mean God sends them.

Perseverance (sometimes translated patience) comes from the Greek word ”Hupomone” which means, “steadfastness, constancy and endurance.” It also means, “someone not swerved from deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings”. Wow. There is the idea here of choice. In our hard times, we have a choice to see God seated on the throne. We have a choice to lift our eyes up to our God. We have a choice to focus on him instead of circumstances.

Check back tomorrow for Part Two of This Blog: Never Alone

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer Reading

Sorry about the absence of posts lately ... it's summer. I have been travelling (Greece, Korea, USA) and not posting! I am thinking and there is a blog post brewing ...

One of my favourite things to do in summer, is read! I love to read ... and fortunately (sometimes unfortunately) for me I am a fast reader. So often I will read a book a day - either one in the morning or one in the evening ... Since being in the States (a week now - not counting my conference) I have been reading! Some of my reading has been fluff but I have read some excellent books as well and I thought I would share with you the ones I think are MUST reads for everyone! I have included links for each of the books to Amazon in case you are feeling the urge!

1. The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine M.D
This book is a quick read and is a must if you are female or want to understand females. One of the best things from the 1990s is the advanced technology in brain scanning and the insight it now gives us in gender differences that are wired into our makeup. I found this book full of eye opening "wow" moments and will be buying it for a few people. Brizendine writes in an easy manner with lots of stories and humour, so it is an easy read and well worth the effort!

2. Mosaic by Amy Grant
This is a treat in writing. Basically, Amy shares a bunch of stories from her life and they have beautiful, thought provoking God moments in them. Some have made me think. Here is a quote from the introduction that really caught me. Amy is talking with a friend who is dying. She asks Amy, "do you know what the most important colour is in an artist's palette?" As Amy is thinking through the possible colours, she continues, "Child, it's black. Black is the most important colour for an artist. You see, without black, there is no depth. Without black, everything appears flat. But mix black with any colour and you can paint an object so real you want to reach out and touch it."

Amy goes on to say, "in our lives, the darkest times, the days that are bleak and black, add depth to every other experience. Like the dark bits of colour in a mosaic, they add the contrast and shadows that give beauty to the whole, but they are just a small part of the big picture."

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. M.D. Ph.D
There is huge concern in educational circles today about the failure of boys in schools. You cannot ignore the numbers. I must say that I picked this one up with a healthy dose of skepticism but Sax convinced me. He explores 5 factors that he believes are driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. It is an easy read with lots of stories - and if you have a son or teach boys, you need to read this. The five points he covers in detail are video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs (and the huge amounts of misdiagnosis of ADHD), endocrine disruptors and devaluation of masculinity. Again, like The Female Brain, this book takes much of the last ten years of brain research into account.

4. The Shack by William P. Young
This is an amazing fiction story. Up front, I have to say that I was not too impressed with the writing, but the ideas in the book make it well worth the read. Basically, a man loses his daughter to a serial killer while staying at a shack. One day he finds a note in his letterbox. The note is from God (known as Papa) and it invites him back to the shack for the weekend. This book has beautiful ideas in it and is quite powerful. Here are a couple of quotes I really like (my favourite will be in my next blog as it exemplifies exactly what I am wanting to say!).

"faith does not grow in the house of certainty ..."

Here's another one - Jesus speaking:
"I don't want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the centre of everything. Rather than a pyramid, I want to be the centre of a mobile, where everything in your life - your friends, family, occupation, thoughts, activities - is connected to me, but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being."

This next idea, I just love ... it's God speaking and takes the idea of "I am" - the idea that God is a moving, active force. He is a verb, not a noun! Check this out:
"I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving ... " " ... as my very essence is verb, I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs such as confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing. Humans have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules: something growing and alive dies. Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless "I Am", there are no verbs, and verbs are what makes the universe alive."

This book is a must read!

5. How Am I Smart Dr. Kathy Koch
Want to know about yourself and how you are wired? Want to know about your kids and how they are wired? This book by Dr Kathy is one of the best books on multiple intelligences I have ever read. One of the things that makes this book a standout from other ones (not counting the easy to read, lots of stories and illustrations etc) is that Dr Kathy goes through the characteristics of the different intelligences, the strengths and weaknesses, and also gives advice on how you can strengthen the various intelligences. Even better for Christian parents, Dr Kathy writes from a Christian world view!

You can get this book through the Celebrate Kids website (click link above) or Amazon.

So ... there it is people ... my current must-reads for summer. At the moment I am reading about the world superclass and how their use of power affects the world but I wouldn't recommend it. I also have read another 3 - 4 fluffy froth, mindless novels but again, I am trying to give you the books that I think are must reads!

Happy reading!