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Tag Archives: The Holy Post

The Gift of Pain

“[Dr. Paul Brand] was the one, really, who established that [leprosy], which is the oldest recorded disease, and a greatly feared disease. When you say leprosy people think of movies they’ve seen where patients are missing fingers and maybe even a whole hand, amputations, they are blind. And all of those are common manifestations of the disease. But Dr. Brand proved decisively that all of that abuse came simply because those with leprosy lacked pain. So they lacked that warning system that keeps you from reaching your hand into a fire, that forces you to blink every few seconds. And if you just keep your eyes open all day long, forcing them to stay open, they’ll eventually dry out and you’ll go blind. So millions of leprosy patients have gone blind simply because they don’t blink anymore. They lack the signal that says, ‘Blink, blink.’

“And he was the first person I met who said, ‘Thank God for pain. If I had one gift to give to my leprosy patients it would be the gift of pain. And I had spent my life trying to figure out suffering. I couldn’t think of anything good about it. I read lot of books on the problem of pain, the problem of suffering, but never one called, ‘The Gift of Pain.’ And ultimately, the two of us together ended up writing one. And it shifted my focus from, ‘Why do these things happen?’ Which I don’t think the Bible gives us much wisdom about. Job wanted that wisdom very badly, and he never got it from God. God just said, ‘No, that’s not your job. That’s my job. Your job is, ‘Now that they have happened, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to respond? Are you going to trust me or reject me? Is there something redemptive that can come out of this suffering?”

Dr. Philip Yancey – The Holy Post Podcast, Episode 476. 9/29/2021. Time Stamp 1:13:40

Dear God, I heard this podcast a few days ago, and I’ve been noodling with it in my head ever since. In fact, I probably let it distract me from actually spending much time simply worshipping you. I used my thinking time as a substitute for worship. I’m sorry about that. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth my time. It’s an interesting concept.

So what would the world look like if there were no pain? I suppose it would be easier to ask what my own life would be like if there were no pain. Prosperity gospel preachers would tell me, I think, that no pain is the goal for life. If we are doing it right with you then you will eliminate my pain. You will make it all sunshine and roses. I recently spoke with a woman whose husband died a few years ago. He had a terminal illness with almost no hope for survival. Yet, she expected him to be healed until the moment he died. She still carries the pain of his loss. She still carries, I believe, some anger towards you for letting her down.

As for me, I’ve certainly been disappointed with you over the years. I’ve had things happen, especially with my children, that have caused me tremendous pain. How could you let this happen? Wasn’t I supposed to get some amount of protection from these bad things if I prayed to you regularly, prayed for them, invested in them, etc.? What gives?

But I’ve learned over the last few years that you are doing things I cannot see. It’s in the Bible over and over again. Some of the stories are obvious to us now (although they were not obvious to the people who experienced them). Joseph, Jacob’s son, could not see how his imprisonment by Uncle Ishmael’s descendants would lead to your glory. But there are other stories that are more subtle. Like Naomi. She lost a husband and two sons, but you ultimately redeemed that to give David his great-grandmother, Ruth. As Yancy said above, ours is not to understand why something happened, but to decide how we are going to respond to the situation or circumstance. Will we trust and hope in you, or will we sink into despair?

My wife and I were talking about Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman’s story of when they lost their young daughter in an accident. They really struggled with both the loss and in dealing with each other and how they were processing the loss. Ultimately, they had to learn to both give freedom to the other as to how they needed to walk through and experience the pain, while still experiencing the pain themselves. And they needed to see how they could support the other in their own walk. It’s complicated, but it’s also essential. Right now, my wife and I are experiencing a painful situation, and we are responding differently. Thankfully, this is not our first rodeo with each other, and we are much better at both communicating what we need and also giving each other the freedom and support to go through the situation the way each of us needs to.

But to go back to the first question because I am way off topic. What would it be like to not experience any of this? What would emotional leprosy (as opposed to physical leprosy) look like? I suppose an emotional leper would be completely insensitive to other people. The parts of my that should contain sympathy and empathy would be gone. I would have no tolerance for others. I also wouldn’t have any motivation to do anything. Without the knowledge that even lethargy will cause me harm, I would totally embrace lethargy and laziness. I would be completely irresponsible because there would be no consequences for my irresponsibility.

I was talking recently with someone about the difficulty of parenting because, as adults we know that we only learn and grow through struggle and trials, but as parents our temptation is to protect our children from struggles as much as possible. I have another friend right now who is struggling to know what to do with his 20-year-old son who is living at home and dropped out of college. Does he kick him out? Does he give him space to figure his life out? Where does he draw the line? And what does he do about his wife’s perspective, which is different than his own? And taking a step further back from the situation, what is it that you are doing for him and his wife through this pain? How are you using it to shape them?

Father, I think it is right that pain is good for us, although it is probably still hard for me to label it as a gift. I’d just call it essential to our development as humans. Right now, the only thing that has restored some of the relationships in my life that were broken was pain and hitting bottom. Alcoholics often have to “hit bottom” to decide that they are powerless over alcohol, their lives have become unmanageable, and they need you to restore them to sanity. It doesn’t happen while they are at the bar. It happens the next morning. So I submit myself to whatever you need me to experience. For repentance. For growth. For love. For empathy and sympathy. For knowing what actions to take. For everything. I give it all to you, Father. I don’t need to know why something is the way it is in my life. I just need to know you are in your heaven and all is right in my world, whether I can see it with my eyes or not.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Colossians 2:6-19

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. 10 So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.

Colossians 2:6-19

Dear God, when I read this passage this morning verse 8 caught my eye:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather from Christ.

My initial thought went to issues like gay marriage and other issues that separate what I’ll call “fundamentalist” Christians and “moderate” Christians. Do I allow my own beliefs to succumb to the world’s views in the name of intellectualism?

My wife and I were listening to a podcast yesterday where the hosts were talking about a large church in Minneapolis that is going through a purging of some of its leadership because of the sin of “empathy.” The person who won the power struggle and forced the exit of three of the top pastors (including the head pastor) apparently feels like there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. It’s in this Christianity Today article: “Bethlehem Baptist Leaders Clash Over “Coddling” and “Cancel Culture.” Apparently, according to one side, sympathy is biblical while empathy is not biblical. As I understand the argument, empathy will lead you to disconnect from the truth as you put yourself in someone else’s place and make you more susceptible to embracing heresy in the name of love.

The argument Skye Jethani made in the Holy Post podcast was that, yes, empathy can be taken too far, but it’s no more unbiblical than is charity because sometimes charity can be abused and taken too far. He also made a really good point that the act of you coming to earth through Jesus was a pretty good display of empathy on your part.

So then I came to the second thought, which was that it is just as easy for someone to be mislead by errant “conservative” teaching as it is someone to be mislead into being too liberal. Which brings me back to verse 7 of this passage, because it is the only solution that I know to keep me right before you and doing the work you have me to do in this world:

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Father, all I really know to pray here is help me to keep plugged into you as deeply as I can. Help me to nourish the soil of my heart, weeding it from the cares of this world, so that my roots can grow deep and I can start to have the moment Neo had in the Matrix, and I start to see the world for what it really is with your perspective and not just what my eyes see it as. In this moment, I’m acutely aware of how much I need you. Please be with me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2021 in Colossians

 

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Masculinity vs. Maturity

The Holy Post Podcast, “Episode 419” (1:03:20 mark)

Skye Jethani: I’m thinking back to years ago. I was being interviewed on a Christian radio program. It went to a commercial break and during the break the host said, “Hey, when we come back I’m just going to throw some questions at you. I’d love to hear your response to them.” And I’m like, “Okay, sure.” So we come back from break and he starts talking about how effeminate Christian men have become, and how ineffective they have become and how we’re sitting around all the time just on the sofa watching TV. And we’re not leading and we’re not guiding our churches…So I’m listening to this for awhile as he’s monologuing and I’m going, how on earth am I going to respond to this? And he was putting all of the blame on feminism. And so finally he turned to me and said, “Well, what do you think about all of that?” And I tried to not completely blast him, but my interpretation was he’s attributing those negative qualities to femininity, and I said, “I don’t think it’s that men are behaving like women. I think it’s that these men are behaving like boys. That this is about immaturity, not masculinity.” And that kind of blew his mind. He had never heard that before. Because in his mental framework, there’s masculinity and femininity and that’s the spectrum. And if men aren’t behaving the way men should behave it’s because it’s because they are behaving like women. And I was saying, “No, I think it’s that men aren’t behaving the way they are supposed to behave because they’re behaving like boys. They’re immature. That axis did not exist in his conceptual framework.

Dear God, I heard this yesterday and it really gave me something to think about. Maturity vs. masculinity. In another part of this conversation they were talking about how exhibiting the fruits of the spirit can possibly come across as not being very masculine. In fact, if you express love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, and self control all of the time then it can come across as feminine and parts of our Christian culture can tend to look down on men who always exhibit those virtues.

First, let me interrupt this prayer by pointing out to you something you already know–it must be so amusing to you to see us all struggle to wrap our human minds around life and existence. We learn. We grow. We mature. And we try so hard. How often we must just look so foolish to you.

But back to my thoughts on this. When we first moved here there was a pastor at one of our town’s larger churches who was having difficulty with some of the parishioners. There was a faction within the church that I considered to be Unitarian that was trying to influence the theology taught, at a minimum, in their Sunday school class, and, at a maximum, within the entire church. As they positioned themselves against this pastor, who was trying to put an end their liberal, unChristian teaching, one of the criticisms made against him was that he wasn’t very masculine. And he was not a macho guy, but he was very masculine. He dressed nicely and wore suspenders. He didn’t care for sports. But if you decide to not care if he liked sports dressing in a more macho way, you saw a sensitive man who was compassionate and caring.

Ironically, the next pastor who replaced him was the opposite (by design). He was much more macho. Of course, the complaint about him was that he wasn’t empathetic or compassionate enough. He was insensitive. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

Going back to this quote from Skye Jethani, what does a mature Christian man look like? What does it mean to grow up and no longer be a boy? Again, ironically, as I sit and think about it, to be a mature Christian man means to exhibit those fruits of the Spirit and put them into action. It means to wake up in the morning loving you with all of my heart, soul, and strength and then loving my neighbor as myself. It means being a good neighbor. It means working hard and being responsible and a good steward of the things you’ve given us. It means seeking out the place in the world that you have for us.

Father, help me to let go of the paradigms the world finds important and to embrace your truth. Help me to internalize that truth more and more each day so that I might find myself just living it naturally as I commune with you. Thank you for blessing the fruit of my work. Thank you for guiding me through various situations. And while I’m here, I am thinking of a couple of recent tragedies friends are experiencing. Please help them to find you through this. Make all of this pain count. There is some terrible emotional and physical pain going on. Please make it count and show me the role you have for me to play in their lives.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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What are my idols?

I think there is real good work–heart work–to do in all this. And, you know, I’ve said this enough in other places that I’ll mention here in this context that part of the work–the heart work–that God has had me doing as my own wife is very sick with brain cancer, that I’m 46 years old, she 46 years old, we’ve got three health and vibrant kids, she’s a marathon runner and a swimmer and it’s been very hard to see her decline. A lot of her disorientation around what’s happening, and it’s like there’s a lot of sad things to say about that. But even as she’s been very sick we’ve had a lot of things to be very joyful about. And the reason I mention that in this context is when we go through things that are periods of suffering, and I certainly have gone through that with my family over the last three years since she was first diagnosed with that, it was June of 2017, our idols began to take shape. You can see them more clearly. We have an idol of health and healthiness. And we have an idol of, you know, sort of relational vibrancy, of being a pair. You know, I’ve seen older–she’s a terminal patient, and so I sometimes will see an older couple who, they’re like talking about their grandkids and I flashforward to the life that I imagined I would live with my wife, and that’s a natural and normal thing for me as a married man to do. But also it’s its own kind of idol because the Lord wants us to, every day, to depend on him for our deepest identity, our, sort of, you know, we’re not promised anything. Our lives, as scripture says, are just a vapor. And so how is it that we as a Christian community today could use the things that God has given us, our stories, even our suffering, and then allow God to use that to tear down and move us past some of the deep idols that we have so that we can become–so that we can live the story that Jesus tells us in scripture. The full and abundant life. And that’s what actually just drives me in my work and my caring for my wife.

David Kinnaman on The Holy Post Podcast Episode #411 (1:04:30 mark)

Dear God, idols, idols, idols. How many do I have? Can I count that high? My relationships with my children. My wife. That’s just a start. Stable income. Helping the poor. Christian service. Working out. Weight loss. Gluttony.

I was listening to this podcast yesterday, and this man describing his vision of how his life should be turning out as being an idol in his life with which he has had to reckon really struck me. Been there. Still there. My own health. My wife’s health. See, I just keep coming up with more. My right to respite, travel, and fun. My goodness, when I examine my heart just a little I find idols everywhere.

I have a particularly challenging situation I’m facing at work right now. I want to absolutely do what is right and what you want done. I don’t want to make an idol out of friendships or the path that is easier for me. I also don’t want to be rash and cruel. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I want to be an example of your presence. I want the organization to be better for having gone through this. I want each individual to be better for having gone through this.

Father, I know my biggest failure in this area over the years is the idol I made of my relationship with my children. I’m slowly learning to turn loose of them and care more about what they need from me to and experience you rather than what I need from them to satisfy my ego or insecurities. But I know I have other idols too. Heck, I’ve listed just a few of them for you. Help me to know how to die to these idols and give all of my worship to you. Ooo, that seems like a dangerous prayer. Be gentle with me, please.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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