The Rescue (a PINK Tuesday post)

Save Me

Image by JamesReaFotos via Flickr

 

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.”   –John Stott

It’s been this way since time began.

 

The fact that you are still reading tells me that nothing has changed… SUFFERING a LOSS raises questions and doubts and fears and anger as it CHALLENGES our ability to cope and adapt and recover.

But the good news today is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone in your loss.

We don’t need to look beyond our own circle of friends & family to find others who are suffering losses, too. Our stories and their stories inevitably are marked by people, places, experiences and situations where what we once held dear is no longer ours to hold.

Consider the scriptures.

Story after story about people who not only experience the mountaintops, but the depths of grief as well:

Adam & Eve

Because of a choice that they made, they lost their fellowship with God AND their home in the Garden. Later in their story, they lose a son – or, perhaps they lost TWO sons – as the one killed the other in a fit of jealousy.

Joseph

The one with the coat. Lost his family at the hand of brothers who hated him. They sold him into slavery. Told his father he was dead. This same Joseph, trying to live a godly life as a slave, is falsely accused of sexual harassment by his boss’s wife and thrown into prison for years. NONE of these losses, by the way, were a result of Joseph’s choices. He had no say. They just happened TO him.

Job

Lost his children in one horrific accident. Lost his livelihood. Lost his health. All because of things going on around him that he had no control over. It wasn’t his fault.

David

KING David. The one we know as “a man after God’s own heart”. Lost his fellowship with the Lord, for a time, because of a series of bad choices that included sleeping with someone else’s wife and then having her husband murdered. David’s loss didn’t end there. Even though he married the woman he had gotten pregnant, she lost the baby. Lost a child. Another loss.

Elijah

The prophet. The one used by God to call down fire on a soaking wet altar, putting the competition in its place. Even Elijah suffered loss. Loss of hope. Loss of perspective. He suffered from depression. Depression that was undoubtedly linked to the death threats he had received from a very powerful woman. His choice? A chemical imbalance? Does it matter?! A loss nonetheless.

Finally, the Apostle Paul.

Wrote much of the New Testament. Spoke the message of Christ far and wide with boldness and passion. This hero of the faith found himself at the end of life, sitting in a cold prison cell, alone. Lonely. And he suffered from the loss of fellowship he had known – we know this because he wrote it in a letter to his friend, Timothy. We can read it in God’s Word.

What we ALSO read in God’s Word are words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

(He must be really STRONG in ME – weakling that I am.)

And,

“In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart – I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Our God makes it clear over and over again in scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18).

He tends to our wounds.

He is our RESCUE.

But just in case words like these sound trite and churchy to you, know that God “keeps track of every toss & turn through the sleepless nights.” Each tear and ache is entered into His book (Ps. 56:8).

There’s a Hebrew custom – the jar of tears – have you heard of it? At funerals, a tiny jar is passed around and each mourner puts a teardrop into it. The jar of tears represents the hearts that are suffering the loss of the person who has died.

I believe that God not only keeps track of the tears we shed, but that His big heart breaks for us in our suffering. And there is nothing that we are feeling or have felt that He, through Jesus, hasn’t felt before.

God is ready to do something big for you today! He’s coming alongside you in your suffering, your grief, your loss…

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God uses our experiences to prepare and uniquely position us to come alongside others who are suffering, too. The heading over this section in the Message Bible is “THE RESCUE”.

He rescues us, and then He gives us the opportunity to extend that rescue to others.

I see a rescue in your future, my friend.

Maybe it’s yours to be HAD.

Maybe it’s in your power to GIVE.

Either way, we had better get busy. There is SAVING to be done (praise the Lord)!

 

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God of the Aftermath (a PINK Tuesday post)

NASA Satellite Image of Japan Captured March 1...

Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

PINK Tuesdays have become, for Pink Shoes Ministries, an opportunity to unearth the treasures which are often buried deep beneath the surface of our ordinary lives. These treasures are often the byproduct of tragedy, tension, struggle and loss; treasures that are often left undiscovered, having been covered with layer upon layer of life’s sedimentary deposits. Treasures that, when excavated, turn out to be priceless artifacts; pointing to God’s ongoing, healing work in the wake of life’s natural disasters.

Many of us are still reeling from last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Streaming CNN into our living rooms, we’ve seen the video and photos. We’ve heard the raw and gut-wrenching testimonies of loss. Even when we leave the house, we find ourselves looping these stories and pictures in our heads, illustrating scenes of devastation beyond our comprehension. The faces of frightened and heartbroken survivors are etched into the synapses of our brains. And of course, the inevitable question flashes like neon in the night:

Where is God in all of this?

Where is God when the literal (and figurative) swells overwhelm us?

Where is God when the lives and livelihood of the innocent are washed out to sea?

Whether we’ve been personally affected by this tragedy or are taking it personally from a distance, we find ourselves lost in the aftermath,  looking for God in the rubble.

Let’s be honest, though. It’s hard to get past these questions when, as my friend Janine said this week, “people don’t see God as someone who dwells in the debris, the aftermath, the dirt, the nuclear waste…”

There’s an unsettling irony in the aftermath of tragedy: that the God who created the earth and everything in it, who called His creation “good,” is as present in the sunrise and the springtime blossoms as He is in the contaminated tides that ebb and flow, carrying the debris of lives lost and homes destroyed to a deep and watery grave.

Who among us isn’t living in the aftermath of something? Cancer. Divorce. Death. Job loss. Bankruptcy. Accidents. Bad choices. Disappointment. Natural disasters. The Bible recounts story after story about people who found themselves in the aftermath of something. There’s a pattern here, in scripture, that I’m noticing for the first time. I believe that I’m noticing it so that I can share it with you.

Joseph

In the aftermath of rejection and betrayal by those closest to him, his brothers, Joseph rose to take his place as the one whose leadership saved the lives of nations. Joseph was sold into slavery, set up by his employer’s wife, sent to prison on trumped up charges, and yet he found himself second in command as he lived in the wake of these painful personal storms. Genesis 37:18ff

David

In the aftermath of death threats and being hunted by King Saul, David not only rose to the position of king but was also known to be “a man after God’s own heart.” David was literally on the run to save his life, suffering from lack of peace at every turn. Unable to tell the difference between friend or foe, he lived this part of his life in fear, sleeping with one eye open and one ear to the ground. When he woke from this extended nightmare, he found himself in a position of great influence, privilege and God-given power. I Samuel 18:6ff

Daniel

In the aftermath of war, Daniel was hauled off to Babylon where he would live out his days in exile. His name was changed. His beliefs were challenged and his religious practices outlawed. He was persecuted along with his people, foreigners in a distant land. Yet even Daniel, in the wake of political and religious unrest, rose to become a leader and trusted advisor to the king. Daniel chapter 1ff

And then there was Elijah. The prophet Elijah, used powerfully by God, saw to it that the entire contingent of so-called ‘prophets’ of the no-god Baal were silenced in one afternoon at Mt. Carmel. As a result, the vindictive Jezebel issued a death warrant for Elijah, which sent him running for his life.

Elijah arrives at Mt. Horeb after forty days and nights of running away, and he is spent. Depressed. Ready to lay down and die. He tells God:

“I’ve been working my heart out for [You]… The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” I Kings 19:10 (The Message)

God gives Elijah some pretty specific instructions at this point. He tells Elijah to:

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” I Kings 19:11 (NIV)

Don’t miss what happened next:

“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.” I Kings 19:11b-13a (The Message)

God wasn’t in the hurricane wind that destroyed everything in its path.

God wasn’t in the earthquake that shook the mountain.

God wasn’t in the heat or flame of the fire.

God was in the AFTERMATH. The still, small voice in the aftermath.

And in the aftermath of the winds, the earthquake and fire, God spoke to Elijah. God told Elijah where to go and what to do. God lifted him out of the aftermath of fear and hopelessness and gave him a purpose and a calling.

In the aftermath, God spoke. And in the aftermath, Elijah rose to complete the work God had given him to do.

Maybe when we ask the question, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ we need to remember Elijah’s story.

Maybe God wasn’t in the earthquake that triggered the tsunami that caused death and destruction and chaos on the shores of Japan.

Maybe God Himself is present in the aftermath; the quiet, gentle whisper that we can only hear once the storm swells have stilled and the fires have been put out. The gentle touch of the rescue worker. The quiet voices of strangers sharing space in emergency shelters. The tearful whispers to family members over the phone.

And if God, our God, is God of the Aftermath, then maybe He wasn’t in the cancer, or the automobile accident, or the pink slip, or the divorce decree. Maybe we had to experience those storms in order to be able to hear His voice as He speaks to us now, easing our fears and raising our hopes, giving us a purpose and clearer sense of call. Strengthening us to complete the work He has given us to do. In this world. On this day.

In the aftermath.