“The Why? in Suffering”

cloud-of-missoryMy Sunday school class is currently studying, the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  As a matter of fact, my pastor-husband Earl, is doing a 4-part sermon series at Charlestons Presbyterian Church on the Sermon on the Mount, as well. As many know, the beginning of the sermon starts with what are referred to as the Beatitudes, which means “exalted happiness.”  Declared as blessed are the poor in spirit, those who  mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who have been persecuted – those that have been insulted and accused falsely.

But here are listed human frailties as well – people who are suffering in one form or another.  This crowd of people, who because of their gentleness or humbleness, those who were merciful toward others, those who tried to stay pure and make peace, could also be ridiculed and thought less valuable by many people.

Recently, a fellow employee at the company in which I work asked me why there is suffering.  She was watching the death of someone she cared about and could not fathom why he must suffer and why family and friends had to endure the suffering of someone they loved so deeply.  Upon his death, she told me she was asked to give the eulogy. She was wondering what she could possibly say. aged-woman

The question of suffering is not a new one.  It has been pondered by humans in every generation.  But I did offer her an answer that has allowed me to somewhat better accept the suffering of my fellow man and lay all my hope in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I tried to offer her a little of God’s comforting presence by allowing her to see God’s promises through His Word.  I told her that her faith in knowing Him would allow Him to help her become closer to Him and to understand suffering.

According to Genesis, we came into being because God created us.  “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).  In knowing this, I know that my soul (the living being within me, that makes me animate), living in this shell called a body, belongs to God.  And God has every right to have us returned to Him.

I’ve learned in my sorrows, and that without them, I would be less than human, not more.  Without human sorrows, we haven’t loved enough, felt compassion enough or been in a relationship with other God-breathed sisters and brothers.  Without sorrow, I wouldn’t be like Christ, Who wept at the death of Lazarus, (John 11: 1-36).  And Jesus promised Martha concerning Lazarus, “your brother shall rise again.” John 11:23.

In our seeking out God due to the suffering we face, we are calling out to the Great Comforter.  We are mourning the loss of someone we love.  We are showing to others our compassionate spirit and that God dwells within us.  We show that we have feelings and that we are not apathetic or stoic or spiritually dead on the inside.

Praise God that He uses our suffering to offer others the extreme privilege of showing compassion to others.  Without suffering, we would never know deepest love and compassion.  If no one ever suffered, no one would ever learn to help those who are less fortunate or in need.  Jesus was surrounded by those who suffered, and He showed them all God’s compassion.  We are to be like Him.

crosses-of-golgathaJesus suffered immensely on the cross even while His mother suffered at the foot of the cross.  But Mary knew Who Jesus was and knew His suffering was for the good of all mankind.  Suffering can bring Christ to His lost sheep – touching the very souls of those who are afflicted by turning them to Jesus Christ Who had compassion and love for all people, and Who died that they might all be saved and be granted eternal blessedness.

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Come, Have Dinner with Me!

Deutsch: Gastronomie om Schlosshotel

        It was Friday night and as many know, Friday is date night for Earl and me each week.  But last week it was a little different.

     Earl began CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) classes at the end of August, and they last until December 18th.   This past weekend was his first of eight, overnight, on-call volunteer times.

     So we decided that we would have a date night on Thursday night.  We tried a restaurant in downtown, Charleston.  We love sampling the food at different restaurants, and I almost always prefer Italian.  Unfortunately, we left the restaurant $60 poorer and still hungry.     Whoever heard of leaving an Italian restaurant hungry?         

                                                                           

Friday is also Earl’s day off (on call 24/7 always, but we say it’s his day off), so he got up early, worked on his computer, went into the office (he feels guilty now that he takes a day or two for the chaplaincy program, so he goes in on Friday)….then he came home and worked on one of his many auto projects before dressing to the nine’s and heading to the hospital. 

Before leaving he asked me, “Would you come to the hospital and have dinner with me?”  OK, I’ll be honest here, as the pastor’s wife, my first thought was not positive.  It was more like “What?  You’ve got to be kidding!”  But even as he was asking, and I was rejecting, I knew without a doubt, I would be going with him.

It’s not often that I deny Earl his heartfelt requests, and anybody who knows me, knows this is true.  But why would I deny myself an opportunity to spend a little time with Earl, even if it is in a hospital cafeteria?  As many people know, a pastor’s family life is very difficult.  Check out the blog-post here that I wrote concerning statistics on a pastor’s life and family.  So with this knowledge, I know not to make our life any more difficult than it already is.  If I’m given an opportunity to be with him, and I can do it, I’m there! 

When I met him at the St. Francis Hospital cafeteria, I must say that we enjoyed a fabulous fish dinner with rice and greens along with drinks and bread – all for less than $10.  The meal was fabulous!  My date continued on with a tour of the chapel, the CPE offices, and then I was brought upstairs to see where he would be spending the night.  It was in a small room on a tiny little single bed.  Earl is 6’2”, and this was not going to be comfortable for him to say the least.  Not only that, but the bed wasn’t even made up.  Ghee-gads!  Earl and I spent a few minutes locating the linens and then without a second thought, I was making up his bed for him. 

I figure it this way, I feel so blessed that God has given me a few things in this life to oversee, whereas Earl has been given much to oversee.  I certainly want to make sure that I do all I can for such a caring, compassionate and humble pastor, so that he can touch the souls of those in distress and those that are depressed and dispirited, by the Spirit of God that works through him.

Matthew 9:36 NASB

36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.

Our Son – Birru Maran

Reach out and touch another human being with your heart and soul….how hard could it be?

Earl and I have sponsored a Compassion International child named Birru Maran from India for the past 6 years, he is 9 years old now and his birthday is July 4th, 2002.  I carry a picture of Birru in my Bible as a bookmark and pray for this dear, sweet boy.

Each year we exchange with him several letters and birthday and Christmas cards.  We send him pictures of us and little stickers that kids like and anything else we can find that lay flat in an envelope.

Recently we received the following letter, and I want to share it the way he expressed himself.

“Dear loving Parents,  Yours son Birru Maran is writing with thanks.  I am safe here, and I hope that you are also safe there.  I received letter from you.  I read the letter and felt so happy.  Sometimes I look into sky and says Hello.  We also celebrate Thanks giving festival here every year.  I am learning verses daily in the Project, and growing in the way of God.  Now we are in March month.  It is summer season.  Now I am preparing for my annual examinations.  I praying daily for you.  Yours loving son,  Birru Maran”

This young boy brought me to tears.  One small act of compassion has brought new life in Christ to this young one in India.  We have brought him love, and he in return, gives us his love. 

I have seen pictures of our son Birru when he was but a skinny malnourished child to now a child with a young boy face and a healthy and vaccinated body – from a son who drew pictures of his favorite animals to a young lad who writes that he loves us and is growing in the way of God.

Jesus Christ is the very picture of compassion.  He always reacted to the children with compassion and love.  And He defended them strongly by warning, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

All the little children of the world are God’s children, and each child should be loved and held and taught about Jesus.  We are but their caretakers while here on earth and that responsibility that God has given us is to be taken with all seriousness.  The gift of children is a gift to treasure. 

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Psalm 127:3

Our children are all grown up, happy and healthy, and they all believe in Jesus Christ.  We have grandchildren that we pray will someday know our Savior too.  But being able to do so now, we touch another child with our hearts in a depressed area of India with his parents and siblings who also are hearing the Word through our son, Birru.

Message of the Beatitudes – Five – Merciful

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Life is a struggle.  We fear.  Life hurts.  Now we’ve been judged by others.  When life throws us into a pit, and we can’t find a way to climb out, who has shown us mercy and offered us a hand to get out?  Sometimes we only catch a glimpse of judgment on the faces of those who see us suffering – as if they’ve never worn anyone else’s shoes and have never been down-trodden.

But perhaps judgmental reactions are what they received while down in their own pit, and it’s the only reaction they understand.  Perhaps their behavior is due to their unbroken spirits in the Lord. They do not acknowledge that God has shown them mercy, and that they have more power to show mercy once they experience it themselves.  But to experience mercy, we all must acknowledge that we owe God a great debt and that we are unable to repay it and that God has offered to forgive us, undeservedly.  Mercy is a form of grace, which is undeserved favor.  Mercy is undeserved compassion and forgiveness.

So let’s back up for one moment.  What is mercy?  Mercy is an active empathy extended to relieve someone in misery, pain and/or distress, regardless of who it is.  This includes our enemies.    We should be on the lookout for those in distress and not pass by on the other side of the road.  We should have a heart of pity and our deepest desire should be to help no matter who the sufferer is.

Jesus lived a life of mercy.  He spent His time surrounded by those less fortunate; he suffered with the suffering, the addicted, the homeless and the prostitutes.  With whom do we surround ourselves?  What judgmental attitudes block our ability to extend mercy?  God’s desire is to be seen through us.  The Holy Spirit desires to penetrate that which hinders us from being God’s light to a suffering world.  

Have we become an indifferent people?  Are we now a people who lack concern for others?  If we have suffered, we should be the first to show compassion and mercy upon those that are suffering.  For we know that God pulled us up out of our pits when God showed mercy on us.  We should never condemn others.  Yet if someone stumbles, we are not to accept their sin as good, but we are to lend a helping hand and offer them God’s forgiveness.  Even Jesus said to the adulterous woman, who was condemned by the Pharisee’s, “Where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  When she indicated that nobody had, Jesus then mercifully said, “Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

Suffering is not always for no reason.  Suffering allows us to become better Christians – having compassion for those who are suffering perhaps something we’ve suffered ourselves.  What have we suffered and how can we use that experience to help a fellow brother/sister through the trials or sins in which they find themselves?

For one of the greatest blessings of receiving mercy is to be merciful ourselves.

Reborn to be Free

I would like to take a moment to introduce you to Maggie Mae.  Maggie is our 16 month old Great Dane, and she is a brilliant dog.  She is always surprising us with her cleverness.  We got Maggie when she was 7 weeks old.  Earl took four hours deciding, while watching all the puppies in the litter before finally picking Maggie.  It was her natural curiosity that tickled Earl.  Now, Earl and Maggie are inseparable.  She loves and adores him and will protect him from me at all costs, including hugs and kisses….oh the dog’s life I live.

One day when I was getting ready to start work in my home office, I found Earl and Maggie watching the old 1966 movie “Born Free”.  Maggie does not watch TV normally, but on this particular morning she was so engrossed in the film, it was comical.  It was the end of the movie, where the lioness, Elsa, had been training for weeks to learn to hunt and kill for herself, so she could be set free in the wild and be able to survive on her own. 

Now Maggie has her big dog stuffed toys: a moose, a cow, a turkey and her squirrel.  Each day Maggie is let outside to spend the day in the great wild of our backyard.  As I passed the kitchen window, I happened to see Maggie running past with a squirrel in her mouth.  My thought was “How did she get her toy squirrel outside?” and so I went to go and get it when I noticed her toy squirrel on the living room floor.  My jaw dropped.  I went racing for the window only to see Maggie outside frolicking with a real squirrel, dead in her jaws.  I cannot figure out how Maggie, this huge 140 pound Great Dane managed to kill a squirrel.  Then, I believe as a gift for Earl, she left it on the back porch. 

But in remembering her total immersion in the Born Free movie, I saw her acts as analogous to those of Christians.  When we totally engross ourselves in God’s Word, and we allow Him to teach us His ways, we will actually take what we’ve learned and apply them to our everyday lives.

We are set free to serve God in the capacity to which He appoints us.  Just like Elsa, she went into her natural habitat and after learning how she was to hunt, she applied herself.  When we are set free in Christ, we break the chains of slavery to this captured world of evil and we are given new life.  In Galatians 5:1 “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”  We are to walk away from our dependency on what the world has to offer and immerse ourselves in the world that God has to offer us.

We were born to be free in Christ.  It is only through being born again that we taste and live that freedom.  1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.  It is through this hope that we are assured of a new life both here on earth and later in an eternal life with Christ.  For in John 3:3 “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Where Maggie saw Elsa and learned how to hunt to survive, we should see The Lamb and learn how to love, to have compassion, to give to those in need, to worship and glorify God and to live an abundant life in Him.  For once we learn His way of life we are born again, to be free.

“If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

Message of the Beatitudes – Three – Meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

  I am not meek, but I am working towards it. 

Most people would not admit to working on becoming a meek person.  We are usually offended when referred to as having too meek a personality or character.  Why?  From all that our culture values, to be meek is to be mild-mannered, spineless, weak, submissive, subservient, passive and even in-effective.  Meek people get trampled. 

Maybe we do not understand what being meek is really all about from Jesus’ perspective. 

Being meek is the middle ground between excessive anger and being completely dispassionate and passive.  Anger is not a sin, nor is it necessarily bad.  The bible says that we are to be angry, but sin not.  Anger can be a great motivator.  It can help us to get charged about God’s righteousness and justice.

Everyone gets angry. But anger is often a selfish response to the world and other people.  If we were left up to our own devices and decisions, everything would be going our way.  So what is it that make us angry?  We may feel anger when we lose control – when things don’t go as we planned and we begin to feel powerless to change them.  We can feel anger when other people’s decision’s adversely affect our lives without our consent.

Jesus was meek.  But Jesus also became angry.  But his anger was a righteous anger for the down-trodden and the oppressed.  His heart burned when people called by His name ignored “the least of these, my brethren.”  He promises judgment for those who truly hurt children and cause them to stumble.  His soul reacted when He saw his Father’s temple being used for profit instead of the worship of God.  James 1:19-20 “This you know, my beloved brethren.  But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Note that when Jesus became angry, His anger was focused on those that caused suffering to others and on the disrespect shown towards God and His worship.  Jesus’ anger was never about Himself.

The meek are not easily provoked to anger; they patiently bear and put up with injuries and affronts;  they carry themselves courteously and affably to all; they have the best thoughts towards others; they do not envy the gifts and graces of other people, and they are willing to be instructed and admonished.  Meekness is patience during the midst of injuries.  Meekness produces peace.  It is proof of true greatness of soul.  It comes from a heart too great to be mowed down by insults.  It even prays for those who tear down.  He that is constantly ruffled, and raises a storm of passion when wronged, is at the mercy of every mortal that chooses to disturb him.

The meek are those who quietly submit to God; who can bear insult; are silent, or return a soft answer; who, in their patience, keep possession of their own souls.  To be meek is one who controls his strength and uses it appropriately.

You cannot achieve meekness without first achieving humbleness.  We submit ourselves to God and know that we can do all things through Him.  We humble ourselves into servant-hood…to love, to have compassion, to serve those around us, even those who are against us.  To be meek is to be wise….

So, what keeps us from being meek?  Ego.  

Besides the meek inheriting the earth, the bible refers to other blessings for those who are meek.  “The meek shall be satisfied.” “The meek He will guide and teach.” “The meek will become wise.” “The meek will be filled with fresh joy.”

So, what’s not to like about being meek?

BE STRONG and BE COURAGEOUS

“Be Strong and Courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

I have had a very hectic and draining couple of weeks.  But I can only attempt to understand the distress, pressures and heartache that my pastor husband, Earl, has endured.

We live and minister in Charleston, SC, and I work for a company in Atlanta, GA.  Last week, I was needed in Atlanta for the week, coming back to Charleston on Saturday.  On Palm Sunday, Earl received a call that no one ever wants to receive.  His father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer only 2 months prior, had passed away.  With Holy Week ahead of him, we quickly made the arrangements to get to St. Louis on Monday morning, very early.

Upon arriving, Earl and I, his sister and brother-in-law and Earl’s mother, went to make the arrangements with the funeral home.  After spending most of the day there, the decisions had been made, but then they had to find a burial plot, where further hours were spent with more decisions being made.  Earl’s mother was a really strong woman that day and handled herself with pure grace.  She was strong, she was courageous!

Earl’s mother made a request of Earl that I would never have been able to fulfill.  She asked him to do the service for his father.  Earl was grieving, Earl was trying to be the strong son.  Earl was uncertain he could fulfill her request.  But she insisted.  Earl’s stress was intensified.  How could he possibly do his own father’s service and make it as meaningful for the family as he had done for so many other families in the past?  This request prompted me to remember how Earl was as a child.  He wanted to be superman; he donned his cape and climbed atop the garage so he could save the world and make everything right.

 

Earl had to go into super pastor mode, so he went into prayer and asked God for His presence.  He pastored his family; he gently and compassionately questioned them about their stories about his father.  He took in the stories and on Wednesday, he took those stories and developed them into a tribute to his father that was inspiring, loving and heart- felt by each person in the chapel. He began his eulogy with a prayer that so touched me that I will never forget his request.  He asked God to give him the spirit of a preacher and the heart of a grateful son.  Earl stood strong, he was courageous! 

God’s timing in the passing of Earl’s father was too soon for us, but oh so perfect for Him. Earl’s father suffers no more.  Earl will always remember that God took Aubrey home on Palm Sunday.  Earl mentioned that his father triumphantly entered Paradise on the day we celebrate Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem so long ago.  Jesus came in order that we too could triumphantly enter the gates of heaven.  Earl’s father lived a life full of compassion, love and gentleness the very personality of Jesus.  Earl’s father lived a life of giving and helping and being there for those that came across his path.  Earl’s father lived a life that most would shy away from, for Earl’s father did not live for self, but Aubrey lived for others.  Aubrey lived strong, he was courageous!

Easter is now upon Earl.  The day after burying his father, Earl was presenting the Maundy Thursday service to a fellowship hall full of our Charleston family.  Our congregation offered him more time to stay with his mother and take care of family business.  Our congregation offered a gift so very extraordinary, they gave that gift unselfishly, knowing that Holy Week was here.  But in Earl’s eyes, his church family in Charleston needed him now.  He needed to be back in the fellowship of his flock, helping to lead them into the Easter season, in the remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ, the most holy week of the year. He let the Lord lead him.  He knew that he had to be strong and courageous for his flock.  For he knows, “the Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.” Deuteronomy 31:8

May you be strong and courageous through all of life’s trials and tribulations and may you always know that the Lord will go ahead of you and will always be with you. In Christ we can be strong and courageous!

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