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Pain and Suffering

The following post is disjointed and semi incoherent. I have left it as such on purpose. Incoherence and abrupt changes in the narrative when retelling a personal story is a sign of trauma. I have recently had multiple friends go through severely traumatic events. I have left my musings in a format that is I intend as an embrace to their stories.

What do you do when faced with evil and suffering?

I typically remind myself that when Christ returns judgement day will come and the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.

But this answer begins to waver as I am faced with greater evil and suffering. The last year I have met those whose spouse cheated and left them, watched young people avoid the feelings after being abused and five women who had been raped. One of them was raped while I was in the act of praying for her.

The light of future justice becomes a dimmer and dimmer light in the face of growing darkness.

How do I continue to believe that God is good in light of allowing such evil? Evil that could have been avoided by a text and one other person joining an event. Such a simple solution.

I want to alleviate suffering. Because of this I have a habit of looking for people who are suffering to help them. I developed a habit of seeing more evil and bad than good in the world. I fail to see the blessings and good that God provides.

              These things I hold to be true.

              God allows people to choose for themselves.

              When people sin it is because they are carried away by their own lusts.

              God prevents us from sinning in many ways that we do not see.

              We never know the whole picture of how God is working in our lives.

              Pain and suffering is sometimes the only thing that turn us to Christ, and that will always be worth it.

              But I wonder, how do I know that turning to Christ is worth it? What do I see now?

David laments the success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous in the Psalms. He cries out to God in honesty as he looks at the suffering of the world. Why? Where are you?

              But he declares, “I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

              If I believe this I must look for it. I must be thankful for the good that the Lord does provide. The sun, the rain, health, friends, embraces, prayer, and recall to mind all the past times he has come through.

              I want to ‘do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly before the Lord my God’

              In response to seeing pain and suffering I want to do good. Treat others well.

              I must praise God that I have been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of showing others goodness.

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To My Plant Friends

              I love my plant friends. Walk into their house and there are plants. Everywhere. I am not a plant person. I am bad at taking care of plants. I just can’t keep them alive. I give them too much sun. Too much water. I am also bad at taking care of people.

              Cameron would tell you this isn’t true. He recently told me I respond to him well. I listen, I only offer advice when asked. I care for him while respecting his autonomy.

              I am good for Cameron. He wants to grow in a way that fits my methodology and thought process. He likes the amount of light and water I naturally offer. But I cannot say I am good at taking care of people because ‘people’ includes those who don’t think like me. They need different levels of sun and water.

God has recently been using a young gal to humble me. Constantly. She doesn’t aspire to the same ‘level’ of growth. She doesn’t want to work through past demons. She just goes through life changing habits without overthinking. Sort of.

I try to push and influence her behavior. But it never works.

She does have episodes of growth. She sits me down and brings up difficult topics and clearly states what she feels, what she wants, and what she is working on.

It has always been after my absence. Not my presence. Won’t talk for three or four days and then a sudden blooming of analyzed feelings and desires. I am more of a hindrance than a help.

She is the plant lady.

She grows on her own.

Paul tells us in 1 Cor that one person plants and another waters, but it is God who makes them grow. I over water and force sunlight and get frustrated when leaves wilt or get burned. But it is not my place to expect or demand growth. My place is to be good and do good.

Plants don’t communicate the same way people do. They tell you in subtle ways when they need water and sun. If you overwater they may grow mold. If you give them too much sunlight, they get burnt. When do we water and sun plants?

When they ask for it. It may be nonverbal. They may be unconscious in a ditch in need of medical care. Or crying and motion for a hug. It may be like Cameron who asks directly and clearly.

When we aren’t asked; we do good and shine as little lights for Christ. The plants that like to grow in sunlight will grow. The ones that don’t, won’t.

If they need space. Give them space. God grows plants in the darkness and the desert as much as the sunlight and the rainforest. Thankfully even those that we over water God gives grace to grow despite us.

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Tik-Tok, Tuesday, and Love

         

I want a good marriage. But what does that mean?

               We are inundated with movies, tv shows, and tabloids that emphasize a hot steamy romance. It is fairly common knowledge that the chemicals underlying the passionate love dissipate between the 6 month and 2 year mark. Most towards the shorter end of that range.

               Country artist Jake Scott released a song, “Love is the Tuesdays” in 2018. The song runs counter to the image of blissful highs and lows and emphasizes daily moments. “It’s not just highs and lows, and champagne toast, I’ve come to know that love’s not only the best days, or the worst days, love is the Tuesdays” Jakes song calls attention to the steady enjoyment of life with another person.

               Everyone says this is what we want. The unexciting, healthy, committed, caring relationship. But do we really? I don’t think so.

               Tik-Tok is both a huge time waster but also an app that shares stories of the mundane. Unlike Instagram that trended towards the perfect photo, the road trip adventures, and highlights, Tik-Tok emphasizes the mundane. Is your hair a mess? Doesn’t matter. Room a mess? Who cares. Lighting terrible? Not a problem. What do people watch? Literally anything. It is just a bunch of boring people doing boring things.

Every part of life is to be enjoyed. Work to play, exploring the outdoors, and significant events. All things were given to us by God. All blessings are from him. Learning to enjoy those things is an important skill for relationships.

               Married couples on Tik-Tok are not shy showing off impressive spousal displays of affection. They are also not shy in putting arguments, frustrations, and partners foibles on camera. The husband rants about the wife leaving clothes all over and ends with giving her chicken nuggets. The wife complains that house work isn’t done or that she just doesn’t understand what he is thinking.

Are these cruel jabs? No. They are simple people expression genuine irritation underscored by a much deeper sense of love and belonging. Though much time may be wasted, at least Tik-Tok is counter cultural to our obsession with emotional bliss and Disney moments. Tik-Tok brings us back to Tuesday.

Good marriage and calling on marriage

              A good marriage is one that consistently puts the other first and chooses the couple unit. How well do you put the others needs first in communication, survival, emotional well being, etc.? This is a metric for all relationships. “and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

              The second portion I assert is choosing the couple unit. This is the wisdom part. Sometimes putting the other person ‘first’, I use human comparisons, may put the couple unit at risk. At times we will have to ask the other person to bend or put in more effort for the sake of the couple and the couples calling.

The constant call upon the married persons life is to choose and return to the other as a couple. This also helps decide on where time is spent in wisdom. We are called to love everyone. But time and resources are limited. After creating a marriage covenant we choose to love them first before others. They are the deciding factor (not their feelings but them as a person) in how our time is spent. All of this together is then subject to the purpose of the marriage before God.

The call on the couple is living out the Kingdom mandate. The terminology of ‘Kingdom mandate’ or ‘kingdom call’ is undermined by our separation of secular and sacred. The ministry to win souls and be in church is the sacred and eternal – everything else is temporary and secular. When this divorce within the Christian life takes hold of our psyche the only way a couple can be doing good for the Kingdom is in church ministry. Difficult to do when you already work a full time job. I argue the Kingdom call is supporting the other in whatever good work is before them in Christ. This may include activities together or encouragement for when they are apart. This is a broad simplification and is intentional. Live life well. The Christian walk is as simple as giving a cold cup of water to someone who is thirsty. So do good and enjoy what the Lord has given you.

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Relationship Skills

I had the opportunity to be friends with my ex, I’ll call Holly, and visit her over the weekend in LA. I sat behind her at the bar while she was doing dishes and cooking breakfast. She shared mixed feelings for a guy she was talking to over the last few weeks. Holly stopped, turned off the water, and turned around to look at me. I looked at her bright blue eyes.

“I shouldn’t be sharing this with you. It isn’t considerate of our relationship. I am sorry.” She said with all care and sincerity.

I muddled something incoherent in reply and looked out the window or something. She waited. I returned I contact and shrugged. Satisfied she changed the subject and returned to cooking.

I do not know anyone as adept at communication skills as she was. The more books I read on neuropsychology, communication, relationships, and emotional intelligence the more I am amazed at how she just does everything naturally. No research. No books. Just good well intentioned relating.

I have had a few dates with young girls who are very present and engaged. It isn’t a completely lost art, but it is definitely difficult to find. I think it is an affect of social media and cell phones. Eye contact has become increasingly difficult to manage. Many are so lost and disillusioned that they have difficulty ignoring themselves long enough to really listen and engage with another human being.

That is the goal. Learn the habits that lead our hearts to putting the other person first. Some of us naturally put the other first. Others need a lot of help with lots of practice. I lived genuinely selfless before others and developed a severe selfishness disorder. The last five years have been fighting to get it back. I still fail regularly.

A few months after this interaction I unfortunately didn’t think of Holly first. I put her in an uncomfortable situation because I couldn’t die to my own desires first.

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The Secular and Sacred

There are two great lies the church hands out freely. We are to love ourselves first and there is a separation between secular and sacred. The first is more widely held and defended. When I politely suggest that loving yourself first is not scriptural it is Christians who respond viscously. Those who do not profess Christ easily accept it. Christians are supposed to love others more than themselves. That is Christ like, is it not?

               More subtly is the separation of the secular and the sacred. The separation is not taught as much as implied. Sermons, books, conversations, bible studies, and tweets imply that the unseen spiritual world is of more importance. Church ministry, worship songs, winning souls for Christ, reading the Bible all have value. Everything else is just pointless filler.

               If you are working a secular job, it is good to tithe and not do wrong things in front of your coworkers and invite them to church. But your real life is the spiritual things you do around your job. You have the unfortunate position of only getting in a few hours of spiritual work. Blessed be the church ministries that get to do spiritual work 40 hours a week.

               Christ cares for conduct of all people, everywhere, in every action. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it well unto the Lord. If this means taking extra time to clean the runners in your sliding door unto the Lord, then do it well. If it means leaving that task undone to respond to a friend on Facebook, then do so to the Lord.

                 The separation degrades most of our life from diligent stewardship of God’s gifts into pointless tasks. Those not in full time ministry feel lost and without purpose. It strips lives of opportunities to serve and glorify God. Worship moves from all people, all places, everywhere to fifteen minutes on Sunday morning and listening to Phil Wickham in the car.

               Our crowns are created and shined on earth. They are shown in heaven. The next several posts I will be covering how to change our thinking to undo the separation of secular and sacred.

Love Despite Flaws

I recently listened to a lecture regarding writing on family. He continually qualified everything he said with, “I love my family.” “I want to make it very clear that I do love my family.” “People often ask me how I can love my family”.

              I found this repeated declaration odd. It rarely occurs to me that some irritating trait or negative experience would cause me to question my affection for those I love. People are annoying. Relationships are difficult. People are flawed.

              The idea that we don’t love someone because we are open about their flaws, or that we don’t love someone despite any number of major blunders I find problematic. This can breed fear of losing a friend for even petty things.

I love my friends

I originally had written a much longer post, but as I wrote it turned into the substance of three or four. So finally, a short one.

I recently listened to a writers lecture regarding writing on family. He continually qualified everything he said with, “I love my family.” “I want to make it very clear that I do love my family.” “People often ask me how I can love my family”

                I found this repeated declaration odd. It rarely occurs to me that some irritating trait or negative experience would cause me to question my affection for those I love. People are annoying. Relationships are difficult. People are flawed.

                I would hate for my friends to question my devotion to them even when I may be telling them how annoying they are. I am saddened for people constantly qualifying devotion towards friends. I wish for honesty in love and confidence in loves commitment

Woman Amen – a lesson in humility

I am a hopeless romantic. When I listen to Dierks Bentley’s “Woman, Amen” for the first time my heart jumps a bit. I dream of the day when I meet the woman who gives “this drifters heart a home”.

Friends always at some point always seem to drift away. As careers, school, and spouses begin to take up time it becomes more difficult to keep up on consistent daily or weekly schedule. I myself have difficulty deciding what to do with my time: guitar, piano, voice, mountain biking, sailing, kiteboarding, writing, hiking, dancing, cooking, martial arts, lifting, and reading are just a few of my hobbies and interests. I want that day when I will have someone to stick with and who becomes the first one to say, “yes to” and the reason to say, ‘no’ to everything else.

Words matter and I cannot listen to songs without careful analyses. The song is not a cute romantic song about a mans love for a woman, but a ballad representing my sinful obsession with marriage.

The Christians call is to seek first the Kingdom of God and love the Lord your God with all your heart. As C.S Lewis teaches, we are to become little Christs. Our relationships and marriages are intended to make us more like Christ and help us seek His Kingdom. They are not an end in themselves. Kingdom first, then your spouse. If you miss this order you become as Solomon who was led astray by the women he married.

“She gives me faith, she gives me grace, she gives me hope… … strength … … love … love without end” “Thanks for the moon and the stars up above, Forgiveness’ a sin and your undying love, every twist every turn for the way you made sure, all my roads led to her” each verse focuses on the woman, with a nod to Christ.

I live the same priorities. In grade school I wanted to be good at everything  in preparation to seek the Kingdom in all things. After two heartbreaks and difficulty dealing with a revolving door of friends and friend groups, I started obsessing over the stability of a spouse to always be there.

Everything I chose revolved around a future spouse, even to the detriment of my own soul. I have given up new cars, motorcycles, trips, vacations, and my own hobbies (including writing) in an obsession with being able to provide my wife with whatever she wanted.

Did I have conflict with my family? It was practice bearing with someone difficult. Nothing involving doing good for the Kingdom of God in the present or the future, or about being more like Christ. (We will skip over the terrible marriage picture I had that bearing up under ‘relational suffering’ was a primary virtue of a good marriage relationship).

“This world has a way of shaking your faith / I’ve been broken again and again / But I need all the cracks in my shattered heart / ‘Cause that’s where her love gets in” The cracks in my life is where Christ’ love gets in. It is also through the brokenness that God worked to show me how I had replaced a desire to be a man after God’s own heart with a desire to be a husband after some fictitious future spouse. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things will be added unto you.

Epilogue:

I wrote the above piece in April of 2018. I am humbled that I learned nothing from what I wrote with my own hands. More than a year later and I found a girl that was everything I wanted on paper. From physical appearance to personality quirks and her relationship with God. Ironically what attracted me to her most was her very clear knowledge of her calling in all things to help those who need just a little bit of extra help in life. Something I had completely lost. Regardless of the lack of a ‘spark’ I became obsessed. Here was the kind, hospitable, spunky, slightly wild girl that I could go through life with.

Graciously God ended that relationship. It is the most painful breakup I have been through. I was breaking up with not just her but all my hopes for a spouse and family. God was cutting away the obsession that crowded out all desire for the kingdom of heaven. Cutting out part of ourselves even when good for us is painful. It is part of me learning to say ‘yes’ to the call of God to serve his Kingdom and ‘no’ to everything else.

Justice: Heal Wrongs

The common view of justice is one of punishment. Someone does wrong and they receive a ‘just reward’ for their wrong deeds. This is, at best, an incomplete and warped view of justice compared to the biblical view.

Justice is: make something wrong, right. It is making something bent or crooked straight again. As all injustice and evil is a perversion of the just and good. For the Christian good and right are all things that align with the character and nature of God, that is Jesus Christ.

This definition brings healing to the world rather than meaningless pain. Justice as only punishing a wrong does nothing to change the brokenness in the world or our souls.

Making wrong right, helping those in need, and healing pain is the compassionate side of justice that brings it to completion. The social outcasts and marginalized are the object of our justice when we assist in lessening their burden of badness and evil that has happened to them.

We are just when we assist a woman who is abuse in escaping that abuse. The abuse is part of our broken world. It is a wrong in this world and is evil. It must be made right.

We make her life more right when we remove the abuse. Counseling can help make her internal world more right. For the right world is the one with goodness, gentleness, kindness, love, joy and all such good things.

The same can be said for feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those who have lost homes, consoling a loved one and any other action that causes a move towards what is right, good, and beautiful. A shattered ceramic in Japan is repaired with silver and gold along the cracks. The one that is made right is not without marks, but it has been made right again for its intended purpose and is beautiful.

Unfortunately, there are many evils in the world and some which cannot be made right simply by kindness and beauty. Punishment is very necessary when setting the world aright. What should we do with the one inflicting the abuse? We certainly cannot make the abuse ‘right’. Punishing the abuser does not undo the abuse. What good is punishment then?

Punishment for the sake of punishment is closer to vengeance. It is not right. Simply causing pain in response to evil does nothing but cause more pain. Worse, it can damage the heart of the one inflicting the punishment.

The goal is to make wrong right. The intent of justice as punishment, is causing the evildoers heart to change from bad to good. The goal is a change of the heart from wrong to right.

Justice is the straightening of the bent. The undoing of wrong and creating of right.