The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 9

#13 - Turned to Anticipate The WayGreetings my fellow race-runners and lovers of discipline!

You’ve not likely been described in this manner before [“race-runners and lovers of discipline”], but if you’re “running the good race in, through, and for Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 12:1-29; 1 Corinthians 9:24), that’s exactly who and what you are! How so?

The two-edged sword of truth related to the issue and assurance of discipline [E.g., raised-up properly by God as His sons and daughters; cared for properly by God’s family in the church; and the proper means of self-control needed to live a fruitful life] is—or should be—well known in the Western church of our day: But, honestly, there’s never been less bible-based discipline and discipleship formation in the church… and… we’ve never been in more need of it.

The good news is that many churches have realized this and are initiating discipleship [“The Blessing of Discipline”, Tabletalk] programs as we speak…

Having a theology, discipline, and heart-filled passion for an Apologetic on Suffering ranks way up there for Jesus Christ’s disciples in our day. How so?

People both inside and outside the church are reeling from the lack of a doctrinal, mature, and compassionate explanation of why and how an all-loving and all-powerful God allows such widespread and horrid suffering to occur in the world… And right smack dab in our own hearts.

So that, the vacuum created by the lack of biblical wisdom and a personal apologetic in this arena is fast-filled with a vast array of wrong-headed explanations and spirit-killing emotions from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

This naturally brings down God, raises up man, so as to create the perfect lose-lose situation!

It is impossible to live a fulfilled and fruitful life devoid of an explanation and redemptive experience of Father-God’s sovereignty over suffering and its use for our own good… purely by His manifold mercies… in Christ Jesus… and by the person and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For the record and a remembrance, where we’ve traveled thus far:

The CONTEXT of God’s Story
Part 1: Creation
Part 2: The Fall
Part 3: The Redemption
Part 4: The Consummation

God’s “Protocol for Redemptive Suffering”
The Weeping: Part 5, Freefalls; Part 6, Foundations
All Weeping, all tears, all trials, and all free-falls of life and death are allowed in God’s loving offer for revealing and firming up the foundations of our faith.

It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN the consequences of living in a broken world will break… sometimes shatter… our heart. God’s plan of redemption uses the very fallenness of this world that MAN created (Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32) to redeem, refine, conform, and ultimately, utterly UNITE us to Christ at His Second Coming, face-to-face, for eternity.

The Window: Part 7, The Would-a, Could-a, Should-a’s; Part 8, The Window into the Heart
Once on a foundation of Creation, Christ, and Covenant, we are assured no punishment is involved, only purification: searching our heart, discerning between the falsehoods and truths of our faith, and seizing any/all opportunities—in partnership with the person of the Holy Spirit and the community of the Saints—to purify, sanctify, make holy, more Christ-like… the heart.

The Way: Part 9, Purposely Pause in a Sacred Place; Part 10, Turning to Intentionally Face the Chaos… Redeemed to Redeem!
For the “co-redeemer in Christ”—after some quality and community time is taken to avail ourselves to the first two steps in “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” in the WEEPING and the WINDOW—the WAY back into the chaos of a fallen and broken world requires supernatural and human will power, purpose, and preparation. Don’t waste your tears (Psalm 126:5)!

If, during a trial of any kind, we do not slow down and take any and all steps necessary to shore up the FOUNDATIONS of our faith and use the blown-open WINDOW of our heart to do an inventory to distinguish between the truths and falsehoods therein…

We will re-enter the world of unavoidable chaos not as a CHRIST-LIKE, REDEEMING CALM IN THE CHAOS… but simply and sadly a part of the problem—just as wide-eyed, wounded, worried, wandering, wacky, and woeful as the world.

The Way: Part 9, Purposely Pause in a Sacred Place
The anticipation of moving back into the chaos of a broken world can either paralyze or rush us; compartmentalize or disorganize us; hide or harden us… Unless we have God’s Word and a plan in place to pause in that sacred place for a while.

[quoted from my book—emphasis added]

Redeemed to Redeem
I had no idea how much time had passed; it had lost all meaning. “Oh, Dad, . . .” I said for the last time as I rested my hands on his left side and shoulder. How thankful I was for the answers God had provided to my outcries, though I did not yet comprehend the extent of God’s blessings.

I tried to ease my stiff body as I continued to kneel next to Dad. Moving in a slow, surreal motion, I turned my head and shoulders to glance behind me. My head pounded. My eyes burned. My upper body ached. As I turned, I noticed a new sensation. It seemed as though I had somehow re-entered worldly time, and though the “bubble of protection” still existed, it had changed as the outside world drew closer and began to intrude.

As the first of nearly a dozen emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officers approached the garden gate, I could see lights flashing on the snow all around the neighborhood. Black rubber boots. Red, blue, and orange flashing lights swarmed around me. Chaos threatened to encroach into the place of calm, turmoil, peace and horror I had experienced with Dad and God. I tried to refocus on what was happening, but it was no use.  I wasn’t ready to leave this place, to leave my dad.  Not yet.

I turned back to him for what seemed like a last good-bye. The anticipation of entering a whole new hell of consequences and shattered hearts made me feel sick to my stomach. “Breathe, John,” I kept reminding myself.

It was inevitable that I would be the one to take charge of the many details concerning my dad’s death. I was the only blood relative who lived in town. Somewhere deep within my mind and heart I accepted that charge. I knew I would be ready, and in the recesses of my heart, now shored up by God’s comfort, I felt honored and deeply blessed by it. I knew people would come rushing in to help. I also knew that God had been preparing me in so many ways for this exact time, for this exact moment and set of circumstances.

Still, I didn’t want to leave the garden. “Oh God, oh God… ” my heart cried out. I felt as if I had just finished a double marathon—and now I had to stand up just as the starting gun exploded again, sending me off on the next one. My heart and emotions lay in shambles, and yet I was not lost by any means. Oh no… I was resting on a rock-solid foundation. I was reconciled to being fallen and forgiven.

Then, gradually, I began to realize that I could breathe a lot better—physically, to be sure, but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Though I could not have articulated the impact of the “conversations” I’d just had with God, I felt a deep sense of purpose, of promise, and of peace.

The Holy Spirit was very close by, and he would bring many others along side to help me and those I loved get through this horrific tragedy. God would use even this senseless tragedy for his glory. He would use it to bless other people—somehow, some day. I knew this to be true.

Then, as I faced Dad and waited for the EMTs to cross the front lawn and take charge of the scene on this holy and most dreadful Christmas night, I heard new words circling my heart, words of prayer, and total dependence:

Oh God, I said to myself. I’m so blessed to have been here in this place, but what now, Lord? Please tell me, what now? I need your help to get through this, Lord. I cannot do it alone. Please, Lord, please give me the strength, the love, and the heart to move forward from here. Please hold me up, Lord. Please give me the hope and show me the way to make it through this next horrible, yet hopeful, part.

As I prayed, God’s blessed responses to my heart’s cry enfolded me. Passages from the Bible came to me. These verses were clear yet faint, bold yet quiet, overlapping yet discrete:

I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).

Comforted to Comfort
These verses? These words? These truths? These treasures? Amazing! I felt a deep shiver course through my body. It was as though God were giving me an extra-measure—a second and third helping—of his mercy. I took deep solace in each of these rich and redemptive passages.

Then, two contrasting emotions flooded my heart and began to overwhelm me: an inexplicably deep sense of peace and a sickening foreboding. The Scripture passages quietly, yet unequivocally coursed through me, deepening my peace with each breath and remembrance of the Truth. I had soaked in these God-inspired words, promises, declarations, and commands many times before that night, but they lifted my heart and spirit as though I were hearing them for the first time. They felt brand new, yet very familiar, like the many pre-dawn mornings I had spent with the Lord in the Bible and with my fellow Christians.

The peace washed over me as did the sickening foreboding of what would happen next as people heard the shocking news of Dad’s suicide.  How would they respond? Very likely, not well at all. Yet how might God use this tragedy in all sorts of different ways? How might he invite me to become intimately involved in that? How might I witness about the redeeming reality of God’s plan, turning sin’s tragedy to God’s triumph and his people’s blessing?

Even given all that, Dad’s decision to take his own life and my experience with him and God this night would become for me a transformational experience of grand proportions! Much would happen as a result, more than I could take in as I knelt there in the garden. God was using even this experience as yet another answer to my many prayers. When suffering or crisis of any kind happened to people God had placed in my sphere of influence I would boldly and lovingly step into the gap for them, providing the hugs, help and comfort that come from God’s love and his truth.

Firmly resting on the rock-solid foundation, being comforted by the counselor in the Holy Spirit, seeing the truths and falsehoods of my heart in a brand-new way… was the perfect set-up for THE WAY to move forward from here.

[end quote from my book]

C. S. Lewis wrote, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort, you will not get neither comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” (The Problem of Pain)

There is absolutely no question whatsoever in my mind that, a) this time with God and my dad in the garden on Christmas night 2002 was a miraculous intervention and gift from God in the person of the Holy Spirit; b) the previous two responses from God [the WEEPING, WINDOW passages] were the perfect answers to my outcries to God; c) this last offering from God to me was so astonishingly truth-packed, loaded with theology and application, and an extra-large dose of assurance and motivation; and d) the tragedy and triumph that occurred on Christmas night 2002 was not by any stretch meant just for me, but for anyone God might reach through me

Honestly, I don’t have the words in this space or any other, really, to describe how crucial, seminal, and practical the passages God, the Spirit, gave me AT THIS SPECIFIC POINT IN TIME—as I was faced by having to turn and not simply face the chaos of this broken world, but run into it with renewed faith, purpose, and self-abandonment.

During and following a time of suffering, how do we best re-enter the world of chaos, hurt, and brokenness MORE like Jesus Christ—and LESS like all the sin, self-sufficiency, pretense, and egotism than our life reflected BEFORE the suffering occurred?!

God’s redeeming work offered us in, through, and by our trials doesn’t just happen, my fellow marathoners for Christ. It’s a partnership between the supernatural, heart-transforming agency of the Holy Spirit AND our own joyful obedience in “processing the suffering in redemptive ways” [RE: Weeping, Window, Way].

As Father Richard Rohr wrote in this regard, “All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If your religion is not showing you how to transform your pain, it is junk religion. It is no surprise that a crucified man became the central symbol of Christianity.” (emphasis added)

Suffering is infinitely and intimately allowed by God to promote a change of heart in the direction of what Jesus’ heart and ministry to a broken world was / is like. (Luke 14:27; John 16:33; Romans 5:3-5; 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:10… many more)

The transformation of our heart [core beliefs], spirit [emotions], and faith lived out is used of God for our conformation [Christ-likeness], Beloved of God.

Pages 70-83 and 273-313 of my book address lots of issues related to these last passages AND why THE WAY—this stage of God’s protocol for redemptive suffering—is so incredibly critical as to how we are called to re-enter the chaos of this broken world… a different, changed, transformed, conformed person than we were before our trial began.

For now, please consider a “handle and lead-in” for the four passages and their main message the Spirit gave me in order to set the course for the WAY to move into the chaos of a broken world… Comforted to Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

We will address them in greater detail the next time we sup’ at The Training Table. Please don’t miss the amazing messages and call-to-action these passages from God provide us! Exactly how we move back into the chaos of a broken world following times of suffering is absolutely crucial: The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

Ezekiel 11:19I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Mark the Change of Heart: Less Stone, More Flesh (Context: Ezekiel 11:17-21; 36)

Romans 8:28We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, forthose who are called according to his purpose.
Moan the Purpose of the Spirit: Less Me, More Christ (Context: Romans 8:18-30)

Romans 12:2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Marvel the Mercy of God: Less Whining, More Worship (Context: Romans 11; 12:1-3)

Job 19:25For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Move the Mountain with Faith: Less Ruminating, More Redeeming (Context: Job 9; 19:25)

Running Into the Chaos… For the Cause of Christ
Please consider how you wake each day to face the only reason God has you still living in this redeemed yet mightily-broken world: Do you sense that the words of faith and actions to match have “Saved to Serve” emblazoned on your heart, spirit, words, deeds… all of it?

If so, please be reminded that this salvific fact AND call-to-action will reverberate in time AS WELL AS in heaven for all eternity. The faith-full words and deeds we do in Jesus’ name to redeem this fallen world we live in—as we run into the chaos each day—will be reflected in our experience for all time.

Steward your suffering and your calling sanctified by it—“Saved to Serve”—well.

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