Tag: suffering

Euthanasia and the art of dying

The topic of euthanasia is in the news again. The discussions on the topic are quite troublesome to me. It is not really a question of should we or should we not. The issue goes far deeper. As a culture, we lost the art of dying.

The problem with ethics is we try to define right apart from God. The question of whether something is ethical is actually unbiblical. Biblical “ethics” is what we call progressive sanctification. Here we align all things to the image of Jesus, over time, and as the Spirit leads. This includes death and suffering.

How one views death determines how one views life. The issue with euthanasia and its kissing cousin abortion is our view of death and suffering. We as a culture, including Christians, are buying into the notion that inconvenience and suffering are not worthy of life. Such a view dehumanizes us. Seeing euthanasia as dignified or abortion as wise is robbery at best. To view suffering as God not blessing is to ignore the cross.

Long ago there was a nobility and aspiration to how we faced death. It was viewed as a testament to ones character and constitution. The process of mourning and lamenting was accepted, encouraged and viewed with dignity. We need to return to this.

The worst crime in our culture, including Christianity, is suffering. To be in-convinced, to be in pain, to be lamenting is to be an unwelcome burden. In a culture so enthralled with authenticity, we jettisoned a massive part of being human. Many of our churches worship in more hip-hop fashion than in grief. Both are essential. Euthanasia is the symptom not the disease.

I could share stories of people who wake up in severe pain and call it a good day. They get up and live. I could recount people who died, suffering in pain, and did so with dignity. One of the greatest honors in life is to serve the helpless who suffer. Because of this we have lost the value of suffering. Because of this people who do suffer have the added burden of feeling less human.

We are drunk with happiness and it is robbing us all of our humanity, Christians included. Let us as a culture admit that we hide from death. Let us also admit that this means we do not truly know how to live. To suffer is not to be less alive or less human or less spiritual. Sometimes suffering is the most spiritual thing you will walk through or walk through with someone. Let us also admit as a culture that hiding suffering is to also remove compassion and love in one of its purist forms.

In running from pain, Christians, we also lose sight of the Gospel and Jesus’ process of making all things new. God painfully allows suffering for a number of reasons, and often for more than just one reason. But His delight is not in the suffering but in the new covenant whereby all pain, sin and suffering are dealt away with. Sadly, in suffering we see the glorious hope of Jesus’ return and our desperate need of God. We see our need to love one another.

To those suffering, facing death and are tired. You are facing a most noble challenge. Your value is in Him who knit you together in your mother’s womb. When you see Jesus face to face all pain and suffering will pale in comparison with the majesty of God. You are not less human. You are not an inconvenience. We, your fellow humans, need to do a better job of showing love in its purist form. We need to mourn and see that as dignified. We need to sober up. You who are suffering have much to teach, much wisdom to impart. We need you. Rather than hide you, we need to compassionately embrace you.

Reflections on R13 conference

IMG_2359My reason for attending was to gain insight into the direction of culture & the church. The information and input were critical to setting up LFC’s direction. At the end of the day, the most important question at a ministry conference is who did God design your church to be. (Yes, in know it’s Jesus’ church.) I’ve heard and seen many churches get shipwrecked by returning pastors. Prior to the conference, friends reminded me of that fact and that the vision God gives me is important but as a pastor my job is to draw our the vision God gives the church.

Stop hedging
“Just say you like someone. I like Mark Driscoll. Nobody agrees with everything about a person. I don’t even agree with myself sometimes.” ~ Rick Warren
This jumped out at me for several reasons. 1) I’m often asked why I like XYZ, followed by all the reasons I should like XYZ. 2) I was anti-Driscoll for a while and then grew to tolerate him. Seeing how other leaders affected him and sharpened(softened ironically) his ministry I figured I should not hedge. I like Mark too. 3) I’ve frequently heard Rick Warren criticized, especially by followers of John MacArthur. Rick Warren is the first guy I’ve seen get down on his knees and pray for pastors out of all the conferences I’ve been too. I like Rick too!

Serving Jesus hurts
“When, not if… When, not if… WHEN, not if… I said, when, not if you are betrayed…” ~Crawford Loritts
The speakers talked about the wounds of ministry. The larger your influence the more criticism you will take. Betrayal is part of the ministry package. The danger in hurt is acting out of hurt. We must serve out of the Gospel in the Spirit’s power. The temptation to act out of hurt is great and doing such will not produce good fruit. Pain is part of the sanctifying work God is doing through us. Ministry is about being and becoming who God designed you to be.

Vision isn’t about you

“If you think your vision is about you and it’s your vision, then you will hurt people and fail in the vision.” ~Crawford Lorries

Each speaker warned about our identity being in our vision or in the church. What matters more than our vision is our character, who we are when no one is looking. While the push was to grasp a God-given vision, it is our growth in Christ that matters more. If our identity is in our vision and our ministry we won’t let things go and give things away – requirements of a pastor. We are given a message to pass on. (I like Crawford too!)

John MacArthur disappoints
There was no anger or bitterness at John. Many highly view him as a man of God and appreciate his passion to teach the Word. The feeling of John not showing up felt like a let down to people. All the talk about it being a stunt or a trap for John was not true. The X3Watch booth with the cardboard cut out of John and Mark was classic. We laughed at ourselves too. After all, the host speaker called us all stupid. That said, John was respected and he disappointed.

Wake up church!
“Stop practicing repentance leads to hypocrisy, stop preaching repentance leads to heresy.” ~Mark Driscoll
The church needs to actively and intentionally change gears and get back on message. A major paradigm shift in culture has come and gone. The last session unveiled a massive research project on the unchurched or de-churched. Key to this is that the meaning of tolerance has changed. The new definition of tolerance is highly intolerant of Christianity. I’m reserving judgement on “riot evangelism,” but I do believe that love & courage can go together.

The bottom line:
The conference and divine appointments at the conference were well worth the investment. I learned a ton, met with God, and enjoyed the Seattle coffee I missed so much. For sure, I miss judged Mark Driscoll in a few ways. I think the church can learn a lot from him and Mars Hill just as they try to learn lots from others. Perhaps the message of humility is good for all churches to hear.

Book Review: reWritten by Bruce & Heather Moore

“With each life opportunity, God reveals to us more of His story for our lives and the potential for what we can become if we trust Him to author our future.” p. 35

Many of us have wondered, is this really how my life is supposed to be? Maybe your life’s story is marked by poor decisions or the hurtful actions of others. How can you turn things around? Is God still interested in using you? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Rewritten guides you through five life opportunities to exchange your story for God’s story. When you become the person He designed you to be and accomplish the tasks appointed to only you, you will experience the greatest fulfillment you could ever know and bring hope to a broken world.

The authors
Bruce & Heather Moore made the most extreme decision of their lives by leaving a large suburb church to rebirth a dying church with one year to live. They have seen the radical transformation of a church and the stories of countless lives rewritten. Bruce serves as Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship Tampa and they have a very active preschooler.

Layout
reWritten is logical and flows together well as a book. The book is written in three sections: Your Story, God’s Story and The Exchange. The aim of the books is towards those whose lives are a wreck, though anyone will benefit from reading it. The first part had me skeptical at first of the book, until I remembered that ministry is really that messy. The second part is well written. The third part is pure gold. I appreciate discussion and thought questions, ‘story builders,’ were well placed throughout the chapters than merely as an after thought.

Story as metaphor
The Moore’s use the concept of story as a metaphor throughout the book. The over all concept of exchanging our story for God’s story. reWritten reflects this in the layout. The metaphor adds significance to how God uniquely designed each one of us for His good purpose. What stands out from this is how approachable the book is; gracious and dealing with truth.

He said what?!
My heart leaped when I read the table of contents. We too often get locked into the idea that if life is good, then God is blessing. The Moore’s deal with the topics of humility and suffering! Too often these areas are ignored. Of note, the section of forgiveness is well done. It’s important to read the book from beginning to end to get the full scope, but mark the last section up well. It’s an excellent resource for counseling. I appreciate in how the personal stories shared makes God the hero. Some stories end exceptionally, while other end with ‘because this is what God wants of us.’

“With each moment that we suffer, God brings us gifts that change our perspective and allow other people to see His grace in our lives.” p. 139 on suffering

The writing
reWritten is approachable without being inaccurate. It is definitely written from a pastoral heart that cares deeply for people. The book has one of the best rhythms I’ve seen in a long time. The first section had me on edge a little as almost being cliché. When starting to read remember that, yes, ministry is that messy. We forget that too often. The second part is a clear description of God’s image in our lives and the rhythm really picks up there. The pattern of the book is one we should model in ministering to people; moving from where they’re at to where God wants the to be.

The bottom line:
reWritten is an excellent resource to help people to take the mess of their story and to seeing what God wants to do in their life. This is a book that pushes us to live Godly, seeking what He is doing in our circumstances. It builds a big picture of the great God we serve. Well written, the book also addresses topics we often ignore, such as humility and suffering. For those who actively council and minister to people, reWritten is a helpful guide to keep on hand.

God really is the answer:

Peace, harmony, and righteousness can only happen through submission, forgiveness, and humility at the cost of control, fairness and honor. As humans we crave and fight for control, fairness and honor to get peace, harmony and righteousness. Often this fight is couched in the terms of fairness or equality. God pursues peace, harmony and righteousness through submission, forgiveness, and humility. We demand our rights, God gave them up.

Equal and Distinct
Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal, yet they do not function that way. They are equally God, equally in power, equal in their knowledge, ability: they are God, and they are one. The mystery shouldn’t be all that difficult except for our distaste for one word: Submission.

We hate submission because we crave control. We hate submission because we crave and push for our equality. In various discussions on equality, I wonder how people can push for their equality and at the same time fully claim pursuing Christ? In such a pursuit, one is pursuing a right that Christ did not pursue. Christ submitted.

There can be no harmony without submission. I am not addressing one area, but this concept holds true for marriages, teacher-student relationships, teams, organizations, etc. Our demanding equality often comes at the cost of harmony.

Fair or Grace
Fair is Hell. Life is not fair. We so demand fairness, but it constantly alludes us. Good people can make stupid choices, while evil people succeed. It makes no sense, it is not fair. Viewed another way, was it fair to God for Adam and Eve to eat of the tree? Was it fair for Cain to kill Abel, even after God warned Cain not to? Is it fair to execute a perfectly just man?

We scream at (or ignore) God because being who He is, He allowed unfair things to happen. Some even think God gains some sick pleasure at watching people suffer. Does He? No and in turn gives graces. Grace and mercy are not fair. God would have been perfectly fair in destroying existence after the fall. He didn’t. God did what we value above nearly all virtues, He did not give up. God did not reject people, people reject God. As we demand, so often, fairness from God, we look in the mirror and find we, again so often, are not fair towards Him.

Grace, Mercy and Reconciliation by their very nature are not fair. You and I may wonder why God is taking so long to make things right, we must remember something: In waiting God gave you and I opportunity to reconcile with Him. The only fair thing is for all to suffer. God waits desiring non to suffer. God did what was most unfair: He forgave, He provided a way out by accepting what He most loathes and cannot tolerate.

Two conclusions:
1) It seems to me the total of human History is God proving without Him there is only pain, suffering and chaos.  After all our efforts, we cannot escape our own depravity. Put ourselves in God’s shoes: If we wanted to create something and have a relationship with it, but at the same time wanted to give our creation freedom of choice, would we allow the chance of rejection? If we didn’t, did we truly give freedom of choice? If rejected, what would our actions be? What would the result of our creation be?

2) We want all the goodness of God without the accountability. The greatest ‘crime’ for man to accept God’s existence is the accountability that results from it. For the God of the Bible to exist, there then also exits an external standard we are accountable to. We run from accountability because it destroys another thing we humans desperately crave: control. Ironic that God in creation gave up control and gave us choice.

The Bottom line:
Perhaps the Biblical God is right after all. Humans abuse religion in the name of God, government in the name of justice, and reason in the name of science. We cannot escape that we have a soul, that we are depraved, and that all our progress leaves us in the same plight. We really do want peace, harmony and righteousness. We just love control, fairness and honor more. Interesting Jesus’ words: “He who desires his life shall lose it” and “The meek shall inherit the Earth.”

God is not stupid

I understand the plight to focus on essentials and not have a hostile environment when it comes to theology or the deep questions of life. In these conversations I cannot help but sense an eerie feeling. Do we think God is stupid and or modern man is evolved and enlightened?

Creation:
Instead of creation described poetically, what if God poetically created?

The creation account is written poetically. Days 1-3 God creates spaces and Days 4-6 He fills them. Upon completion God creates rest on the 7th days, and hence our week. The debate over creation vs evolution within Christianity will likely not go away, and should always be congenial. I have to ask, why can’t God poetically create?

While we may not like the way some defend the young Earth view, creationists do show plausibility of a young Earth and catastrophism. Are all discussions sound, bulletproof and complete? No. Neither is evolutionary thinking, which has changed demonstrably since its inception. Early humans maybe naïve, but I don’t think God created humans as intellectually inept. Why do we often view earlier humans as incapable of clear or deep thought? Who is to say that God created in the way He did for no other reason than the discussions about origins today?

Bible:
If an all-etc being, can He not communicate both timelessly, accurately, and use man at the same time?

We act based on what we believe. I wonder if we truly believe God is all-powerful or all-knowing. I mention this because we don’t seem to apply that to the Bible. Why can’t God use fallen man to communicate accurately and sufficiently?

Words and language move people. How many movements start based on an idea? Putting ourselves in God’s shoes, if we wanted to communicate who we are with clarity, how would we do it? Based on history, it seems we prefer to write things down: narratively, poetically, playfully. We learn best through narrative, it gives context, tone, color, and a depth mere bullet points or technical writing cannot. Are not the best story tellers those who are both cunning and correct and the greatest of these stories true?

Grace:
Isn’t freedom of choice as much an act of grace as freedom from consequences?

In hard times we yell at God, asking why He could allow bad things to happen. He could have stopped tyranny, death, destruction, but He has not…yet. While Naive, knowing neither good nor evil, God gave Adam the ability of choice, much like a parent knowing what the outcome will be. There was revealed, demonstrable and verifiable evidence of God’s existence, and yet Adam chose pride. Would we do better?

We often think of grace covering the consequences of our actions, but grace also covers our choices. Even in good times we often forget where they come from or worse that we are deserving of them. God hates sin, but yet he allowed people to sin and create the mess we’re in today. Do we not value our freedom above all else?

Rights:
Why does pursuing our rights lead to so much frustration?

Over the course of human history we, both big and small, pushed for our rights. Wars and quarrels, pain and suffering resulted and resound over rights. We either vocally or deep down demand them. We feel entitled to them. We blame God for allowing the violation of them. If He is love and peace, then why…?

I sense we wish God was more like us. Maybe we should reverse that and look at how He wants us to be more like Him? God has the right to wipe us all out, but He patient. God has the right to shun accusations or anger towards Him, but He listens. God has the right of full worship, yet He came humbly and unjustly executed as a criminal. God has the right to make us all puppets, but He gave us a choice. Maybe the answer to much of our suffering isn’t for God to be like us, but for us to be like Him?

The bottom line:
God is not stupid. When discussing the deeper questions of life and theology, we must not forget that. Human depravity and naïvety is a variable, but truth and God are a constant. If God is truly who He claims to be, then perhaps He overcame people’s problems while still choosing to communicate through them. We may not like or understand how or why God chose the path He did, but we should remember that God is God and we are not.