Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pain and Peace

Pain is very common. It can come suddenly, through unexpected circumstances, or it may gradually build over time. Feeling like you are unable to cope for another minute is a sure sign of emotional pain. How you and I deal with emotional pain will lead to inner peace or continued pain possibly crushing the life out of us.

I spent an extended period of years overcome by inner emotional pain. I had questions in my mind that were consuming me. Questions that I kept going over in my head, for days and weeks. Questions I kept asking God, but never getting any answer.Even in the performance of everyday activities the nagging pain was present. It was having an impact in every area of my life. My relationships were suffering, I found it almost impossible to trust, even those closest to me.

You see, we left a country we dearly loved, Zambia, due to a series of events. Donna was sexually assaulted and the safety of my daughters was in jeopardy. During the following days our security was under threat. It was at this time that the pain and questioning began. We felt we were in the place God intended for us. We were serving God and our denomination and this just wasn't supposed to happen. The questions were the  proverbial snowball going down hill. The number and intensity of questions increased and the answers were never coming.

Even after a major life change the pain and questioning continued. There were times when I seriously felt my ability to function was almost gone. During this time I kept up the charade of stability and a faith life. Inside my spirit I felt that God had abandoned me, my family. I was a hypocrite at best and an agnostic in the worst. In the midst of this I was able to find peace, real and deeper than ever before the days of darkness and shadow.

Don't Pretend- Emotional pain is as real as physical pain. Face the pain and do not pretend that it isn't eating at you. This is especially true for men. Emotional denial is a big thing with men. We are taught not to cry, not to show weakness of any kind. Many men stuff themselves full of the pain that they have experienced. It will not go away until you bring it out into the open of your own heart and soul. I had to come to the place where I could face and deal with some deep emotional issues after my parents and a brother died. I wrote them each a letter and described the pain and their part in it. As a kid I grew up under some really negative circumstances and didn't know how to deal with them. I dealt with the pain on a cold winter day at the cemetery where all three are buried. Well, with the letter in hand I read it at each grave and then I burnt each letter and let the ash blow away in the winter wind.

Ask Questions- If you feel that God let you down, or failed you in some way, don't be afraid to ask Him why. He is big enough to take anything you have to say. And, the amazing thing is, He won't love you any less. Ask, ask, ask, ask, until you are tired of asking. You must be able to exhaust out of your spirit all of the negative emotion, and asking helps. I didn't say anything about answers. Not yet. I knew in my heart that we were serving God in the place he had planned. His hand upon Ana and the timing of our arrival was enough proof for me. Yet, I could not understand why He would allow the terrible things to happen to Donna and the threats against the girls. It did not fit into my concept of God. I knew the Psalms that promised protection, I taught them to our children, we sang about them. We believed what they said. So, the question of, why, was haunting me. I asked God why for years. And, for years of asking I did not get an answer.

Rational Exhaustion- Even talking with Donna and friends did not bring answers nor peace. I became exhausted mentally and spiritually. The questioning led me down the path of questioning the revelation of God as I thought I knew. A friend who was helping me in my desire to write urged me to keep on questioning. He is a gifted writer who taught writing in college for years. Our times together began to center more on philosophy than writing. I began to read some of the ancient writers who asked the most basic question known to mankind.  Why am I hear and what is my purpose? The amount of questioning began to ease, the same questions, just not as often. I realized one day that I just couldn't ask again. What answer was I looking for anyway? What happened to us didn't make sense and never would. Was I expecting God to tell me that the evil was good. Did I want him to tell me that everything was going to be ok.

Undeniable Evidence- Coming to the end of questions did not bring any answers. It did however give my mind and heart a pause. I have had a conversational style of talking to God for years. I knew that even in my times of questions my heart was praying. Some weeks after the questions stopped I was drawn to the ancient history of the Hebrews and then  the early followers of Christ. The one point that was so powerful for me was their experiences with God. I could doubt creed and doctrine, even theology and philosophy, I could not doubt personal experiences illustrated in the biblical characters. What was it that gave the prophets the boldness to stand before king or army? It certainly wasn't doctrine nor creed. It was a reality of God, involved and evident in their life. What gave the early followers of Christ the grace and peace to stand in the arena and face the beasts? It was not believing in doctrine, scripture or creed. It was the living Christ that was abiding within them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

I could not deny the evidence that God revealed to me through many years of ministry. I watched families that had been shattered by adultery and violence made whole. I watched a man, known as the town drunk, radically transformed through the love of Christ and community. And, my experiences in Zambia, which could fill pages, were rather remarkable as Christ delivered some people I cared deeply for, from the evil of Juju and witchdoctors.

Peace, Sweet Peace- As I allowed myself to review the works of God that I had witnessed I changed. Within my heart I began to understand that God knew the reasons and that would be good enough for me. And, as that truth settled in my soul, I didn't need nor want to ask why. That inner sense of not needing to ask began to take on a different form. I realized that all of the pain and agony, tears and darkness were leading me to a sense and understanding of God that I never experienced before. Now I am honestly thankful for every hour of darkness and shadow, every tear, sleepless night and exhausting day.

If you are in the midst of pain and darkness, ask the questions until there are none left. Examine the evidence of God loving you and moving in your life. Come to the place of thanksgiving for the new peace that will fill your life.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Encounter with God

A few thoughts to follow up my piece on Isaiah and chapter six. Beside being one of the most awe inspiring and gripping portions of scripture other points jump out. This was not a meeting with God, not some planned duty that he had to perform as a priest. In fact, it was far different than all other religious duties that he had performed. His duties as a priest were all centered around shadows of the real and representative of the heavenly reality. The objects used in worship, Laver, Candlestick, Altar, Table, and Ark all represented what was revealed to Moses. This was an encounter with God, no shadows or representations, reality in the present.

Isaiah encounters the reality of eternal God, in the present reality of a dead king, Human power is dead in the person of Uzziah the king. Human timing records the death of a king and encounter with God. It is fitting that the prophet would record the king's death. In the presence of the great I AM, God who always was, is and will be, Isaiah acknowledges divinity and humanity. Human power, however great and commanding is but a vapor and gust of wind.

When Isaiah is in the presence of Eternal God and the created servants cry out, Holy, Holy, Holy, the temple and the framing begins to shake. The mere mention of I AM by the Seraphim's is enough to cause an upset. At this the prophet responds from the center of his soul. His confession is not couched in theological terms or the language of the religious world. His response is from the center of an honest reality. His cry, Woe is Me, for I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips. His shortcomings did not need to be counseled out of him. He knew, he confessed. His sin was responsible for the terror in his soul.

Encounter brought realization, realization brought confession. And now, Isaiah's confession will bring the searing heat of the sacrificial fire. The coal taken from the Altar cleanses the self-professed agent of sin, his mouth. With the heat of sacrifice comes the mercy that assuages guilt, reconciliation and forgiveness that restores relationship.

The endless universe must listen as the Creator asks the question that must probe every sincere heart; "Who will I send and who will go for us?" With the profound knowledge of who he was, and now is, the prophet responds and his eternal destiny is set.  His words to kings and nations will announce doom and destruction. His pronouncement of the coming Messiah will be used to set millions on their own person encounter with the Great I AM.