Archives For Jesus

Loving When It Hurts

February 6, 2017 — 2 Comments

Have you ever purchased furniture that comes in a box? Our office is full of IKEA desks and bookshelves from the Swedish furniture titan.  As I begin each assembly, I open the manual, look at the simple pictures, and review the short list of required tools. Filled with unbridled but unfounded optimism, I naively dive into the assembly.

However, as each project unfolds, my frustration inevitably grows.  The simple pictures are never simple to follow. In fact, I’ve never reached the end of a project and thought, “That was easy!”  Each piece takes far more time to assemble than anticipated, eroding my patience to pitiful levels and causing me to mutter Swedish words.

This doesn’t just apply to furniture assembly. For many of us, when we first stepped out into the work of loving and serving others, we had a simplistic (and perhaps naïve) vision of just how easy it was going to be. Turns out, loving others is far more complicated and difficult than we originally imagined.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a summit designed for families walking through adoption and foster care. I imagine that most of the attendees found themselves in the same place that I did: armed with the ardent conviction of our call to love and care for orphans, widows, and vulnerable children. God has been unmistakably clear in His charge to the Church to care for them. To Laurel and I, our next step seemed obvious: Kids in crisis were in need of a safe place to live, and we had room in our hearts and our home. The math was simple, and love rooted in the Gospel compelled us to respond.

But cheerful brochures with smiling children hide the reality that between those moments of giggles are a lot of tears.

Our family took a deep breath, and plunged head-first into a world of addiction, hurt, and pain. We opened up our home to provide respite care, knowing that loving people is an inherently dangerous thing to do. We genuinely believed that we were ready.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was coming.

Our experience in welcoming a child turned into the single most painful season of our lives. I experienced fear like I’ve never felt it before. Pain and resentment became constant companions—and the most wrenching pain that I experienced was watching the people that I love the most become deeply wounded.

Here is what I’ve come to believe: There are no simple ways to love others. Love is costly. Indeed, as people invited to incarnate Christ in a broken world, if our love looks anything like Jesus’ love, it could cost us everything that we’ve got. Faithfully loving others like Jesus loves them inevitably means that you will experience hurt.

Stepping out to welcome the foreigner, protect the widow, defend the fatherless, and love our brothers and sisters living on the fringes of society isn’t comfortable or safe. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the same wild, scandalous love that once rescued us, we are called to step into the good works that God has prepared in advance for us. If you have embarked on a journey to love the vulnerable and found it to be more difficult than you imagined, do not lose heart!

How are we to respond to the pain that accompanies living lives marked by costly love?

 1. Expect that loving others is going to be hard.

Don’t believe the IKEA manual claim that the task ahead of you will be simple, or that trite explanations and simple solutions are going to fix all the problems. Real life rarely presents itself in a sanitized, comfortable way.

Instead, lean into the truth that the world is broken. We know that Jesus has won the war—but the battle rages on. We shouldn’t be surprised when life is painful. We shouldn’t be surprised when relationships are difficult. We shouldn’t be surprised when hurt people hurt us.

We are to go into our service with our eyes wide open that “in this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33).

What’s the benefit of expecting it? It helps us to more fully enter into the beautiful moments of life—the hugs, the smiles, the “I love you’s.” Enjoy these moments. Savor them. But don’t be surprised when they’re intertwined with heartbreak.

When we expect challenges, we increase our ability to savor the moments of joy and cling firmly to the second part of the verse from John’s gospel: “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

 2. Call for help.

IKEA manuals always have the same last picture: Call someone.

Pierre, a friend of mine, told me that in rural Rwanda, it’s common knowledge that you always need at least four close friends, people you can call at any time, day or night. It’s four, because that’s the number of people it takes to carry a stretcher.

Strong lifelong friendships don’t just happen; they take intentionality and commitment. Invest in the relationships that matter, and they will sustain you in all seasons of life.

When we reached out to a friend in the midst of the pain of adoption, she responded, “We are going to walk this together, and while we don’t know God’s big picture or the end result, I believe many lives will be changed and hearts will be saturated with the reality of true Kingdom loving. Don’t look ahead. Just do the next thing. Trust and obey. One loving act at a time.” In that moment, it was exactly what we needed to hear.

3. Look up. Constantly.

In moments of incredible trial, where do we fix our eyes?

  • We might look back and obsess over our past. Previous failures and “if-only” scenarios can crush us, if we let them.
  • We might look forward and fret over our future. This is especially easy when we still have questions about what is going to come in the next moment, let alone the next month or next year.
  • We might look inward and become paralyzed by our hurt.
  • We might look side-to-side and ask why other people seem to have it infinitely easier than we do.

Yet we are to be a people of hope who look up. This is not a cliché. These are true words. When life feels impossibly hard, we remember that we have nowhere else to go. As we read in Psalms 121, “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.” Look to Jesus, the One who perfectly shows us what wild, scandalous, costly, fearless love looks like in practice.

Friends, as you step out in the significant work of loving others, do it empowered by the Spirit and saturated in grace. Do it surrounded by a community of people cheering you on and supporting you. Do it knowing that God has promised to use all things, both the moments of great success and moments of heart-wrenching pain, for our good and His glory.

My hope is that we will be known as people who run to the suffering and the hurting, instead of running away. That we will stop to make time to respond to the needs all around us—even though doing so will bring both beauty and pain. That we would be prepared to live fearlessly and love boldly. And that we will continue to press into the dangerous work of loving like Jesus.

In the Bible, 40 plays a prominent and recurring role. It crops up everywhere. Many of the best-known stories have the number 40 associated with them:

  • It rained 40 days on Noah.
  • Moses spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years post-exodus. When he went up on Mt. Sinai, he stayed there 40 days.
  • Joshua did 40 days of recon on Canaan.
  • Israel wandered the wilderness for 40 years.
  • A criminal got 40 lashes max.
  • For 40 days Goliath taunted Israel.
  • The kings of the united monarchy—Saul, David and Solomon—all reigned 40 years.
  • For 40 days Satan tempted Jesus.
  • For 40 days Jesus appeared after his resurrection.
  • Women are pregnant for 40 weeks.
  • The army demands you do 40 push-ups.

Ok, those last two aren’t specifically biblical, but you get the idea. There’s a whole world of 40s out there. What’s with that? Is it sheer coincidence or some sort of Bible code?

Well, it’s not so much a code as a condition. It seems God deems “40” the appropriate period for testing, judging or proving something.

Just about anybody can drop and give you 20. But make it to 40 and we learn something about you.

That seems to be God’s intention for the number. When it comes to testing, “Let there be 40.”

Forty days of rain proves how dirty life on earth is. Forty years in the wilderness certifies the failure of an older generation, while creating faith in a newer one. Goliath’s forty-day taunt confirms the cowardice of one king, while Satan’s forty-day gauntlet proves the character of another.  And if you can’t get with the fact that the latter king ascended into heaven after 40 days, well, his kingdom marches on without you.

Forty. It’s God’s favorite challenge.

The Dangers of Our 40s

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,ché la diritta via era smarrita.”[1] Dante Alighieri

Dante was about 43 years old when he began writing the Divine Comedy, nearing the nadir of midlife. The year was 1308, centuries before we invented psychology. No matter. His description is perfectly apt for today:

“Midway this way of life we’re bound upon, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, where the right road was wholly lost and gone.”

I think the disorientation of midlife is hardwired into the human experience every bit as much as puberty. The times may change, but this time doesn’t. Everybody goes through midlife.

And in the dark wood, dangers abound.

We can fall off a cliff through our own blind wandering. Like the strong man Samson who, somewhere in the middle of his life, started taking liberties with his holiness vow. As one called to be a nazir, meaning separated or consecrated, this ancient knight was not permitted to consume alcohol, touch a dead body, or cut his hair. But he brazenly did the first two, then foolishly permitted the third. Both the Lord and his strength left him (Judges 16:20), and Samson didn’t even notice until it was too late.

We can fall prey to ravenous predators. As 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” And Peter knew what he was talking about. In the darkest moment of his spiritual journey, Satan nearly drained the faith right out of him, as three times he denied Christ.

We can fall into the hands of the living God. For reasons only he knows, God sometimes allows us to enter into a rigorous “40 test” when we least expect it. Deuteronomy 8:2 reminds us that Israel’s forty years in the wilderness were designed to humble and test them, in order to reveal what was in their hearts. Similarly, somewhere in the middle of King Hezekiah’s reign, circa 700 BC, God “left” him temporarily to know everything that was in his heart (2 Chron 32:31). And don’t forget Job. His was the crisis to end all crises, losing health, wealth and family in a moment. When Job awoke, the wood was darker than any of us could fathom. But if he could hold onto faith and sanity, perhaps we can too.

Midlife is a time unlike any other. It’s a moment when we are able to look back at the first 40 years of our lives and gain a new perspective for the next 40. It’s what we’re calling 40/40 vision.


Cover

 

Excerpt from 40/40 Vision by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty

» To download the first chapter of 40/40 Vision, subscribe to my blog.

» To preorder a copy, visit InterVarsity PressAmazon, Barnes and Noble, or CBD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “Dante and the Divine Comedy: Did You Know?” Christianity Today, April 1, 2001, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2001/issue70/14.2.html.

Over the past few weeks, we have had three HOPE staff members get engaged. I am absolutely thrilled for them. They each met a special person. They each have a fantastic engagement story. They each are about to enter an incredible lifelong journey and learn about mutual service.

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But I think it’s time to also celebrate singleness.

A few days ago, a friend of mine referenced a single friend of ours.  “Jane is such a nice person,” he said, “I just hope she finds her special someone soon.”

I’ve often heard these comments. And I’m sure people who are single hear them regularly.  Well-intentioned, the underlying message being sent to singles in Christian community is this—If you are single, you are incomplete. Life is on pause until you’ve met your spouse.

But I see a different story in Scripture. Jesus chose to remain single. Another bachelor, the apostle Paul said, “I wish that all of you were [single] as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7). Paul celebrated singleness and referred to it as a gift.  At the very least, in today’s world, let’s not put so much pressure on singles or only view the world through the “you-have-to-be-married” lens.

To my married friends, here are several dos and don’ts on how to celebrate singleness:

Please don’t …

  • Treat singles as if something’s wrong with them.  In the Church, sometimes we make people feel something’s wrong if you don’t get married within 10 years after graduation. Reject the lie that being a Christian means you have kids and a spouse.
  • Let dating monopolize conversations. Interact as friends, and don’t lead every conversation with “have you met anyone yet?”
  • Pretend you understand what it’s like to be single. Yes, you were single once. But being single for a few years doesn’t make you the expert today.

Please do …

  • Value their voice. The Church can be the loneliest place for singles.  That could explain why so few singles attend. They are relegated to singles groups – where the preoccupation is dating, rather than growing in Christ.  We need their voices, and they are an invaluable member of our community.
  • Celebrate milestones.  “Adult” milestonesbridal showers, bachelor parties, and baby showers—exclude singles. Why not throw a single person a birthday party or celebrate their promotion at work?  Or just find a way to make them feel special and valued?
  • Invite singles on Friday nights, not just weekday small group.  Weekends can be a low point for singles whose married friends prefer “couples only” activities. Invest in your single friends. Invite them to be part of your social world, especially on weekends.

Bottom line: Being married is not the ultimate goal of life.  Being a faithful follower of Jesus is—and that can be done whether we are married or single.


Have you ever calculated the percentage your church spends on those outside its walls?

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For the first time, I researched giving at several churches. What I found surprised me.  Churches I examined were giving 1-2% of their budgets to benevolence, outreach, missions, and ministry partnerships.  I believe individual church members are giving more, but my limited sample shows that perhaps as a North American Church, we are giving our leftovers.

Our budgets reveal that the majority of church funding is directed to serving those on the inside—members only. If we’re honest, I wonder if our churches are operating more like country clubs.  Today we have an abundance of men’s groups, women’s retreats, softball leagues, and music ministry activities.  The church feeds us, nurtures us, babysits our kids, and provides space for important relationships to develop.  It encourages us. It entertains us. It uplifts us.

But what if the primary point of church wasn’t “us”? What if the point was to bring the Good News to the poor? What if it was to care for the widow, the orphan and the alien? What if the primary point was outward service to a world in need as we bring the amazing message of hope and forgiveness found in Jesus?

A self-sufficient and satisfied church is only mentioned once in Scripture—the church of Laodicea.  And Jesus wanted to spew that sort of lukewarm church out of His mouth. Jesus became poor for our sake.  He went to the cross in our place.  Surely that sort of love prompts a response than is well beyond our leftovers.

When we truly understand what Jesus did for us, we can’t remain content with country-club Christianity.

It is time for some healthy introspection and tough questions: what do our budgets tell us about our mission? Are we really following the example of Jesus or just printing a few verses on our golf carts? If we follow the money, we might be shocked that the way we do church is all about us.

Thankfully, there are churches charting a new course. For example, the Lutheran Church of Hope in Des Moines, Iowa, gives 50% of its budget for internal need, the other half for missions and outreach.  Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia, has committed to helping to end extreme global poverty through sacrificial giving. My home church recently introduced the “faith pledge” and encouraged members to get more involved in missions.

I might be naïve, but I believe that just possibly the North American Church is dissatisfied with country-club Christianity and ready to go deeper in service to others.