Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, Ministry, writings

Secret Pain

One of the themes that I’ve often connected to in God’s Word is the idea that eventually secrets will be made know. It’s something we often relish when we’ve been wounded by others: the idea that the truth will eventually come to light, either in this life or the next.

As a pastor, I’ve used the verses that back this idea. Numbers 32:23 says “be sure your sin will find you out.” Luke 8:17 says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 12:2 says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Never mind the context for most of these verses refer to the judgement at the end of time or the mysteries of the Gospel (that God would use those considered foolish by the world and accept those deemed “unacceptable”), part of us relishes the idea that right will prevail and what is wicked will come to light and be punished.

And while I at times find that comforting, I also find it incredibly disconcerting. You see, just as others have done things in secret, so have I. God is causing me to relish the thought less and less. God has been dealing with my heart that my desire for the “truth” to come to light is dangerously close to seeking revenge or a misguided belief in “karma” which is a totally wicked concept fully foreign to the Christian life.

The truth is, we all do or have struggled with secret sins. Sometimes when we hear that phrase, “secret sins”, we easily think of some salacious sin or social taboo. But in reality, any sin or temptation we don’t share with others is by definition a secret. That temptation to tell your boss what you really think… The second look you take at someone who’s not your spouse… Hating your neighbor… All of those can be secret sins. So the next time you wish for someone to get their just desserts, remember how that can cut both ways.

But there is another kind of secret that God knows about… Pain. And that’s what I really want to focus on.

God sees your secret hurts as well. David says this in Psalm 56:8, “You have kept count of my tossings (or wanderings); put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David recognizes that God is keeping track of David’s sufferings and sorrows. He knows the pain that David experiences.

God knows the pain you carry as well. The shame you struggle with from enduring abuse. The miscarriage that no one knows about. The struggle of same-sex attraction that you felt you could never open up about with your Christian brothers and sisters. The pain you carry from hearing what people “really thought” of you. The accusations that were false. The broken heart that you never even journaled about. The pain of unfulfilled dreams. The sorrow over a wayward friend or loved one. God sees this. He knows. He cares.

And someday, he will deal with not only secret sins, but he will deal with secret pains. Those apart from Christ will have their secrets made known at the judgement. But those who are in Christ have the promise that is found in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, not pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

So, friends, let’s take comfort in that God sees our pain, he knows our hurts. Jesus, who lived among us, sympathizes with us and has experienced much of the same pain we have. And someday, he will make all things new and there will be no more pain.

Devotionals, Faith, writings

Saint Patrick’s Day

I love Saint Patrick’s Day. Not because its an excuse to pinch people I don’t like (oops, I forgot, you were wearing green…).

But it’s the celebration of a culture. No, not a culture of drinking green stout. But the culture of an island people who’s story is largely unknown to most Americans. I’m proud to be of Irish descent, mostly on my mother’s side.

But St. Patrick’s Day is more than that to me. It’s the celebration of a man who as a boy was enslaved and taken from his native Wales and forced to serve pagan Irish chieftains. After escaping, and coming to faith in Christ, he felt compelled to return to the people who had treated him terribly. No, he didn’t go back to chastise them or seek revenge. Patrick went back to share the life changing message of Jesus Christ.

He famously used the shamrock as a teaching tool to teach the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagan Irish. Whether he really drove the snakes from Eire is doubtful, but he did dispel the darkness with the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That is an example to every Christ follower, Irish or not. We live in a world of darkness, but inside of ever Christ follower is a flicker of light. Let’s take that light and bring hope and freedom to others. Let’s be like Patrick, and have the desire to serve Christ and His Kingdom in any way we can, even by grace to those who have hurt or wronged us.

Faith, Life, Uncategorized, writings

Surviving

Note: This is a bit darker than some of the things I normally write or share. It’s not a happy piece. But it’s not supposed to be.

This past week I had to submit some annual reports for my church. Yes, I know, it’s late.

Anyways, one of the questions for me personally was along the lines of “What is something that you are celebrating from 2020. My answer? We survived.

I mean, think about it: Since the COVID Pandemic began more than 500,000 people in the USA have died from the virus. And yes, many may have been older or have had underlying health conditions, the fact is that some of those people would surely not have died if they didn’t contract the virus. I think of the people that I know who have passed away from either COVID or COVID complications. Some of them were older, several were residents of long-term care facilities where others passed away. Some, however, were relatively young and would have otherwise been considered healthy people.

In what was considered a few weeks ago, a study came out that showed the average life expectancy in the US declined by a full year. A full year! And it is three times that bad for people of color. It’s not just the novel coronavirus that has been killing us though.

In the middle of the COVID outbreak, the US had experienced the highest number of drug overdose deaths in a 12 month period, with some jurisdictions seeing a 98% increase in synthetic drug overdoses. Suicide statistics normally lag by 2-3 years, but modeling has suggested the suicide rate in Western European and North American countries could rise as much as 14% or more because of the effects of the pandemic. And on top of this is the valid concern of many that some mitigation efforts and lockdowns may have done more harm to emotional, developmental, and economic health than we can track.

I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture. The picture is bleak enough, it doesn’t need any embellishments or exaggerations. 2020 and 2021 have brought a season of life that 95% of us have never experienced. We weren’t prepared for it and everyone has made mistakes in responding to the multifaceted crises we’ve faced.

That’s why I am serious when I say that something to celebrate is survival. We’ve been spoiled in the United States in that for a long time we haven’t had to face a deadly pandemic. We’ve taken for granted that if we die before normal life expectancy it’s due to diet, cancer, or accidents. But this? This has threatened our sense of invincibility. It has forced us, quite violently, to realize that we’re not in control as much as we think we are. I think that is why some reacted so negatively to mask mandates because it was at least some measure of control they could maintain in a world that was looking very quickly different than the world we thought we had understood or even conquered.

Education has been a challenge for EVERYONE. Work looks different for many people. Nothing is the same right now. I’ll leave it for the clairvoyants to predict how much of it will ever go back to the same. But all of the mental health professionals I’ve talked to and those who work in social work and related professions are identifying 2020-2021 as a traumatic event. I don’t think we have come to grasp with that yet. A good deal of the people I interact with are like a person still in shock at the scene of an accident. They almost seem in denial of the pain they have experienced or are still experiencing.

We are hurting. We are traumatized. Jobs lost. Friends dead. Loved ones separated. Marriages broken up. Addictions on the rise. The sooner we come to grips with the pain, the better. And part of that is realizing all the difficulties we’ve been through. And then remembering, we’re getting through them. You may have heard this quote by Winston Churchill or maybe not, but it’s a great reminder for where we find ourselves—

“If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Obviously, the point is here, we keep going until we get through it. So let’s keep going.

Acknowledge the pain. It may mean crying. It might mean a long drive on back-country roads with the radio on blast, or it might just mean looking into a flickering candle, remembering what we’ve lost and yet observing that we’ve survived.

And that is worth celebrating.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

Thirsty For God

Thirsty:
noun; feeling or having thirst; craving liquid.

In today’s common vernacular, thirsty is used by the cool kids to usually mean someone’s desire for attention or sexual satisfaction. Yeah, I had to get that out of the way, because when I speak to young people about having a thirst for God, they give me really weird looks. But it makes sense why that has become the connotation, right? To thirst means to long for something, be it water, attention, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.

In Psalm 63:1, David writes:

"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, 
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (ESV)

This isn’t the first time David uses the idea of being thirsty as longing for God. David spent a great deal of time in the Judean wilderness (think of a rocky desert) where water was scarce and worth fighting for. He realized that just as the human body has a biological need and a drive to find liquid sustenance, so the soul longs for God. In Psalm 42:2, David writes:

"My soul thirst for God, 
the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?" (ESV)

David is longing not just for some belief or set of traditions to fill the void left in his life. He’s not looking around at the spiritual options for something to give his life meaning. No, he is looking for the truth God, the Living God, not some wish-upon-a-star superstition, but for a real relationship with the Living God. He asks “when shall I come and appear before God?” When you study the original Hebrew, you’ll find that David isn’t just longing for a worship service or to appear before God, but he is longing for God’s face. In other words, he is seeking intimacy with his Creator.

There are so many things we thirst for, but they ultimately leave us longing for more. One cup of coffee is never enough. A cost of living raise at work is nice, but oh what you could do with more! Addictions always over promise and under deliver. But God? He satisfies. He quenches the thirst.

Jesus said in John 7 that “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” In Revelation 7:16, we see this description of those who follow Jesus: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water…”

Today, don’t try to fill up on the empty promises of attention or things this life has to offer. Quench your thirst by seeking after God with your whole heart.

Life, Uncategorized, writings

What’s Best?

Perhaps one of the most important questions we can ask in our life consists of two simple words: What’s Best?

Every day through our 5 senses we receive thousands of stimuli, each ding of our cell phone or flashing light or sensation competing for our attention. But what if in amongst all those competitors for our focus we lose sight of what’s most important?

Here’s a pill that’s difficult for most of us to swallow: Everything is not equally important.

Now, that’s a statement that seems on its face to be obvious. Most people would agree with it, in theory at least. Surely breathing is more important than locating that missing sock. Eating a balanced diet is more important that what time of the day you check your email. Reading the Bible must be of greater need than scrolling social media for the 4th time today.

But even though we would nod our heads that there are things that are more important than others, many people struggle to move from agreement to alignment. In other words, we’re nodding out heads but we’re not adjusting our schedules or routines. It’s a lot simpler to agree that I need to spend more time in prayer than it is to buckle down and work on a discipline that I’ve neglected.

If we’re going to do what God has called us to do, we must recognize that we can’t do everything and we can’t possibly give everything equal attention or equal importance. To do so would make everything of equal value, regardless of what we may say otherwise. Dr. David Jeremiah, in his new book Forward says, “We become so distracted by molehills that we can’t charge up the mountain.” That sentence stuck out to me and has kept churning through my mind.

In the classic Spanish novel Don Quixote, the aged hero has imagined every windmill to be a giant, and so he mounts his stead and charges the windmill, in a vain attempt to rid the world of these would-be giants. His squire tried to help him realize that he was imagining a battle when it was just a windmill. I wonder if too often we aren’t preoccupied with the windmills, the molehills, if you will, that we miss the real battle, that we miss our dream, our calling.

So when we come to something, we need to ask, is this best? Is this what I need to give my time and attention to? Do I need to see the photo’s of Brenda’s quarantine vacation or should I spend time with my kids? What is best? What has God called me to do? Has God called me to catch the game on TV or to play with my grandkids? Do I need to finish binge watching the latest season of my favorite show or should I spend some time getting to know God better through His Word and prayer? What is best?

So for the next few days, let’s try an experiment. Let’s ask ourselves when evaluating our day, “What’s best?”

Before I let you go, I need to warn you. Asking this question will cause you to question things, and that’ a good thing. But it may also lead others to question to. Thinking like this isn’t normal. But I don’t know abut you but I don’t want normal. Normal isn’t what God has called us to. He’s called us to the best. After all, He is the best.

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