The Tension--An Ostrich, A Mystery & The Wail of Contentment

Over the last few months, I have had the privilege of getting to know Timothy Willard. Willard is a deep thinker and wonderful writer. Today, he continues the discussion of the creeping prosperity gospel by discussing the tension between what God promises and what he doesn't.

I have been tasked with discussing the tension between suffering and blessing as it relates to life on planet earth and God's so-called control over both. I say so-called because many of us look at the atrocities in the world and wonder, "How can a loving God allow this?"

I don't pretend to know the answer to this question. I am, however, at ease with the lingering mystery of it. A haunting mystery really.

I will not repeat the discussion around suffering and blessing. You and I know the questions and the lack of answers and the debates. I want to look at how God built a transcendental framework around an ostrich.


Continue reading at A Deeper Church.

Holding it all in Tension--the Upside Down Kingdom

  This is our final week in the series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring how to hold what God doesn't promise and what he does in tension.  We'll have some great guest posts, and I hope you'll join us to work this out in the comments.

We've explored it--God does not promise prosperity, physical health, the proverbial bed of roses. Instead, he promises abiding presence, inward renewal and loving-kindness. He promises to fortify the persecuted and weary. But how do we hold those things in tension? After all, in the dark days sometimes God doesn't feel so abiding, so renewing. Sometimes affliction just feels like affliction.

Yesterday, I sat with my parents for a belated birthday brunch at a local restaurant and the conversation of this tension arose. We spoke about Titus and I told them that I hadn't prayed for his healing since our first week at Children's Hospital. It was a stark confession, now that I think about it, but it's true. "There are other's interceding for me," I say, "and beside, if I'm supposed to pray 'Thy will be done,' I'd rather not assume that God's will necessitates one outcome."

My mother looks at me and repeats an old adage. "Sometimes, the believer in Christ gets to their rock bottom but you know what they find? The bottom holds," she says.  I think she's right. But even more--and this is the hope--when the Christ follower gets to their rock bottom, they find Christ, the comforter of those who mourn. This is the treasure, the  pinnacle of the upside down kingdom.

I think about my friends John and Jay Ray, Scott and Joy Bennett, Jordan and Kari Clark saints who have all lost children. They continue to say it--God is good. Blessed are those who mourn? Yes, for they are finding comfort. But even more blessed are they because they are being taken deeper into Christ, they are experiencing the goodness of God in the land of the living and in the valley of the shadow.  And blessed are we when we watch them walk in the tension of sorry and abiding presence. Blessed are we when we see them being conformed more into the image of the living Christ.

Their live in this tension daily, and their belief fortifies ours.

What God Promises--Inward Renewal

We’re continuing our series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God Promises,” and today, Amber Haines (my gorgeous and talented wife) has graciously agreed to share. If you've stumbled here from her place, I hope you'll catch up with this entire series. Consider Amber's words and join us in the comments as we work this out.

When I first believed, when I told Jesus thank you for His broken body, I understood it to mean thank you that His was broken instead of mine. I was eighteen then, and Jesus was where I landed, like I'd been thrown to Him naked by the hands of scribes and Pharisees. I was beautiful, trying to refrain and transform, zip my lips, lengthen my skirts, speak the truth. My new culture was to find Jesus and to let Him make my sense.

So when life did what it does, and my sense fell apart - when I realized that so much is still broken, I lost heart. I've lost it several times actually.

Seth and I here, we build at our marriage like it could crumble, treat it delicately. We have four sons, and every time they've bloomed inside me, my body has broken down a little more. The miscarriages and sick church and unforgiveness took my imagination wandering lonely halls. My dreams disordered; my poetry disjointed.

Our most recent opportunity to keep heart has been with our baby and his illness. It has broken us down and uncovered root-level fears, but this time, though, I'm able to look back, even in all my falling apart, and I'm able to see how Jesus has built me up. I smile as I type it: I feel maturity, these 15 years I've believed. This time I'm broken, and I find communion in it. This time I do not lose heart.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 ~2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

There's a renewal that happens under our noses, wakes with us in the morning. It slowly smooths at the clay, wet vessels in a tender hand.  It's a promise. There's a glory here that transcends the divorce and veneer, the fake and the varicose vein.

I am broken, and I'm broken with Jesus, not without Him. It's a promise, to be inwardly renewed day by day.

Post written by my awesome wife, Amber C Haines. Follow her on Facebook or subscribe to her posts here.

What God Promises--Hanging on the Promises

We’re continuing our series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God Promises,” and today, Scott Bennett has graciously agreed to share. I read these words last night after spending time with John Ray's post. Both lost daughters. Both hand their hopes on the promises of Christ. I cannot tell you how privileged I feel that these two gents penned pieces for this series. Please consider Scott's words and join us in the comments as we work this out.

February 29, 2000. She lay lifeless except for her chest, which rose and fell exactly 30 times a minute in a disturbing, jerky rhythm. The wheeled machine next to her NASA-like bassinet blew and drew breaths for her.

Instead of a mobile above her head, a heat lamp beamed blinding rays of light down to chase the jaundice from her mottled, yellow skin.

Instead of soft music, a shrill staccato of beeps chirped sour chords when her temperature spiked, or oxygen dropped.

Instead of a binky, a ribbed blue tube the diameter of my forefinger disappeared between her dry lips, delivering life to her lungs in measured puffs.

Instead of a delicate navel cord, a cluster of 15 wires and tubes breached her blood-encrusted belly button, feeding life-sustaining fluids into it.

Instead of holding her in our arms, we could only watch her from a distance, wondering if she’d see another day.

She was 3 days old. Her heart had stopped in the night, while we slept. Had she not been at the hospital when it happened, we would have been making funeral arrangements that day. Were first-time parents—Christian parents—living a nightmare, with bloodshot eyes and jean pockets full of wet, wadded-up tissues.

Standing at the bedside of a very sick newborn—or watching any tragedy unfold, for that matter—will upend long-held categories. It will deeply disturb a faith that has in any way been connected to earthly ease, or triumphal chest-beating when things get hard. Mine had been, in some measure. I could practically sing the stanza in my sleep:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail! When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail! By the living Word of God I shall prevail! Standing on the promises of God!

I still believed it to be true. But the spiritual wind had been knocked out of me. In those moments, standing on anything seemed far too ambitious. I was dangling precariously over a cliff. I needed promises, but I wasn’t going to be able to stand on anything. My lifeline would need to be more like a harness to hang from than a rock to stand on.

So I started writing them down, like laying out strands of string. And I rehearsed them back to God, over and over.

You love me. And all things will work together for good for me, because I love you. In Your presence is fullness of joy. You will never leave me or forsake me. The sufferings of this life aren’t worthy to be compared to the glory to come. As the God of all comfort, You give me enough comfort to comfort others down the road. If I make my requests known to You, Your unfathomable peace will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. This trial is giving me the patience and endurance to persevere to the end. As a Christian, I will suffer with You in order that I may be glorified with You. You understand my sorrows because You were the Man of Sorrows, and were acquainted with grief. With joy set before You, You endured the cross. You went before me, and will see me through all the way home, no matter what.

I braided these and countless other cords together. I cinched them around myself and lay still, hanging from a cliff face overlooking the valley of the shadow of death.

Thank God, they held. And they healed. Each one became a source of steady strength that nothing else around me could provide. And yes, I’m going to say it: I found enjoyment in them during some of those darkest days.

Even when she died, 8 years later.

I still wear those ropes.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

What God promises: Comfort to the Suffering

We’re continuing our series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God promises,” and today, John Ray has agreed to share. I've watched John and his family wrestle with suffering through the loss of his daughter Olivia. You can read more about her story here. Consider his words and join us in the comments as we work this out.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." ~Matthew 5:4

It starts around the time school kicks back into gear. As summer days slowly shorten and as fall starts to move in, so does the gathering grief. It comes, like a large rough stone dragged by a chain over a rutted road. Heave. Clunk. Heave. Clunk. Heave...a smothering panic blankets our home; oppressive, suffocating, inescapable.

In many ways the anticipation of the anniversary is worse than the actual day itself. Maybe it is because there seems to be grace for making it through the day we lost our young Olivia, just like there was grace in the weeks and months following her passing. There was revelation. There was comfort that matched the terror. There was peace of a potency that matched the poison. There was news that was truly good, shattering in it’s incarnation, utterly disorienting in its clarity, news that was sufficient to counter even death.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t nice, it wasn’t happy, but it was real.

Looking back I see everything that is important in my life has been shaped by suffering. This suffering--whether inflicted through pain and death, insult and loss--is the thing that has opened me to understanding, to experience, to really value the beauty of the Gospel.

And I have found no other way to experience it.

I know I am not the first to grasp this. I know I still really don’t understand it. But I do know we are a society drunk on manipulating promises of peace, joy, health, wealth and comfort in ways that avoid the very thing necessary to truly understand and experience them. Our constant pursuit of comfort through safety and control prevents us from understanding the one necessary element to obtain it. Not only do we avoid suffering, run from it, we also demonize it. We treat suffering as if it is not the evidence of obedience or an opportunity for grace; instead, we treat it as a sure sign of sin, faithlessness, or ignorance. It is the thing to be avoided at all cost. “It which shall not be named”.

We run from being the kind of people who hear the Good News as it is intended to be heard; comfort for those who mourn, satisfaction for those who hunger, reward for those who suffer. Instead we make the Good News into a promise of the Good Life here and now, a way of having Jesus “pimp” out our already overstuffed lives.

I write this knowing there are many who deeply suffer and feel this promise must not apply to them. There are those who fight through every day and the comfort of which I write seems so far away and impossible to find. There are those for whom no amount of assuaging can compensate for the pain, the loss. To you I offer no formula or instruction, only my own witness and presence and the acknowledgement that your pain is real.

And I offer the testimony that as I emptied every ounce of pain and anger and terror into the hands of God, those hands held and hold me still. That is his promise. That his hands will hold you still.

Cover photo by D.Boyarrin, via Creative Commons.