Thinking Out Loud

February 28, 2019

This Hope

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

On Sunday Ruth was asked to deliver the sermon at the historic First Baptist Church in downtown Port Hope. Although she spoke from an outline, I asked her if she could write it up to share with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

….we rejoice in our afflictions because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us…
(Romans 5:3-5)

There’s a lot of encouragement in these words. The writer is telling us our own story, that he gets it; life has problems, disappointments, difficulties. But we choose to continue, to keep trying, to not give up. We build character – purified strength, a clearer understanding of who we are – and we hope. We look forward to better days, to things becoming easier.

Struggle, perseverance, greater strength, hope.

But doesn’t it seem a bit the wrong way ’round? Doesn’t it seem that hope should be listed near the beginning? Struggle, hope, perseverance, strength.

After all, if we have no hope to begin with, why persevere? What’s the point of strength if there’s no hope in the first place?

Maybe we need to understand — What is hope?

We’re all children of our culture. Our worldview is influenced by what we see and hear, the conversations we have, the values we’re taught by school and friends. So what does our culture say about hope?

The obvious place to start is with a dictionary definition – “To desire with anticipation. To want something to be, or to be true.” To desire. To want.

I hope I get a new phone for Christmas. I hope I win the lottery. I hope there are no essay questions on the exam. I hope she likes me. I want this to be. I want this to be true.

Our culture says that hope expresses itself in our lives in different ways:

Hope is a fantasy:

In The Selfish Gene, author Richard Dawkins argues that only purpose that exists in the universe is the passing on of genetic material. Evolutionary biology and psychology define our entire human reality. Our future, our destiny as a race, our purpose, our goal and our hope is continued genetic reproduction.
As a result, anyone who asks the question, “Why?” – Why are there things in the world like suffering, love, and beauty – is a delusional fool.

Hope is the thing with feathers:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never in extremity
It asked a crumb of me

~Emily Dickinson

The poet paints a picture of hope as something living in the human heart and part of human nature, hardwired and built in. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. A mysterious, wordless feeling that, although things are cold and strange, if we just trust the universe it will unfold as it should and everything will be okay.

Hope floats:

The title of this movie is taken from words spoken by one of the characters;

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”

We see hope as something that comes from beyond ourselves, an impersonal, outside force that we find on the surface of all that’s uncertain, difficult and chaotic. It floats along beside us downstream, helping keep our heads above water. A sort of cosmic pool noodle.

But if hope is just part of human nature, if it’s just the universe holding our hand, or if it is just a delusion – doesn’t it make sense for it to be there from the start, giving us a reason to endure?

My culture’s understanding of hope is not helping.

*******

Paul, who wrote the verse we’re looking at, wrote a lot of the New Testament in the form of letters to different people and groups of people. He taught and encouraged the very first followers of Jesus who found themselves figuring out what this was going to look like and how we should live.

Paul had a lot to say about a lot of things. The language he said these things in was Greek. Paul was from a town called Tarsus and Greek would have been his first language. It was also at that time a language that many nations had in common, sort of like English is now.

To understand why Paul wrote what he wrote, it helps to look back at the original language; what did that word mean to those people at that time? If they looked at a dictionary, what would it say?

When we look at the word that’s translated into the English word “hope”, their dictionary would not have said “optimism” – it would have said “expectation.” Not “desire” – but, “confidence.”

Not “I hope I win the lottery”, but rather “I hope spring will come soon.” We know it will. It can’t not. We have that confident expectation.

So when he says “endure, build character, find hope” he’s not telling us to work hard and become a better person so we can feel better about how things will turn out. He’s not saying try hard enough, become good enough, feel better.

He is saying that we’re on a path towards something in which we can be confident; on a path toward an ending that we can trust.

So when he writes:

“All creation eagerly waits with anticipation… in the hope that creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:20) he’s saying that we have a confident expectation that this wounded, broken world will be made right.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25) he means that however long it takes, we can be patient, holding to our confident expectation.

“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope…through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4) is stating that we’ve been given a written record of how God has worked through history, so we can look forward with confident expectation to what He’ll do next.

***

“This hope will not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:5)

We watch the news and see governments who should make things better often make things worse.

Our heroes and public figures who we expect to set an example often make things worse.

Industry and employers we rely on to lay a foundation often yank that foundation out from under us.

The doctor gives us bad news.

And our optimism takes a hit.

Our culture says that hope is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of something we long for. A feeling that something is wrong in the world and ought to be made right. So we hope.

• We want our relationships to be made right.
• We want the government to make good and just laws.
• We want medical science to find answers for things that are scary and painful.
• We want technology to find solutions and to correct the damage done.
• We want employers to open doors, to meet our needs and make lives more secure.

How can we have confident expectation in a world where people and institutions let us down?

We can’t.

***

So what is this hope that will not disappoint us?

One of the people to whom Paul wrote letters was named Timothy. His first letter to Timothy begins with this:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour, and of Christ Jesus our hope.”

Christ Jesus, our hope.

When Paul writes about hope, he’s not writing about a feeling that everything will be ok, or about good karma, or the potential of humanity to make the world a wonderful place.

He’s writing about one person.

And NO, this Hope is not a delusional fantasy. This Hope is the ultimate reality who painted his self portrait when he created us, who came to earth in our skin with a face to see and a voice to hear, who left footprints in the dirt, who left behind the recorded life of a human being.

And YES, this Hope does live in our hearts, bringing us comfort – but even more! He doesn’t sing a wordless tune, asking nothing from us. He sang the Psalms with His people, He spoke, He taught, He called people by name, and gives us a chance to understand the big picture and a chance to work alongside Him to bring it to life.

And YES, this Hope does comes alongside, keeping our heads up, carrying us over chaos and darkness
— but even more! He didn’t just float downstream on the surface of the chaos and darkness, he stepped out onto the surface of the chaos and darkness, he turned the storm into a sidewalk to come meet us to where we are in our hard times, to be the strength that we need to persevere, to teach us how to grow and become stronger and purified in Him, and in our knowledge of who we are in Him.

And this knowledge turns our focus – not to the hard times, not to the hard work, not to the pain of being purified and strengthened – but to the One who is our confident expectation.

And this Hope will not disappoint us.

Another person who wrote a lot of the New Testament was John. John had an experience that he tried to describe for us – what he saw of the big picture.

This is our confident expectation:

We will see a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and earth will have passed away, and there will no longer be any storm-tossed, chaotic sea. We will see the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, adorned in strength and purity like a bride.

We will hear a loud voice from the throne calling out, “Look! God’s home is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them.

God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Death will be gone.

Grief, crying and pain will be gone because creation will have been set free from the bondage of corruption.

And the One sitting on the throne will say, “Look! I am making everything new!”

The one sitting on the throne.

This is Christ Jesus. Our Hope.

January 22, 2012

Need a Safe Place to Run To?

Awhile back I did a piece called “How They Started” where I looked at some of the earliest blog posts of people I read regularly.  When you’ve got a few extra online minutes, I encourage you to do the same.   David Fisher had this item posted back in 2006 on his encouragement and devotional Barnabas Blog, though he would probably prefer that I linked you to more recent things at Pilgrim Scribblings.


Where is your safe place? A spot where you can find rest and peace in the midst of life’s storms? Perhaps you have a place that you retreat to where you can unwind and relax and clear your mind. Maybe it’s just a place you wish you had, a place that dreams are made of, a mountain cabin, a warm beach in the Caribbean or, if those are impossible, just an empty booth at the back of a smoky restaurant.

I’m so glad we can look to our loving Father when the storms of life surround us and troubles rush in like a flood. God is a REFUGE we can run to when life’s circumstances seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve been there many times. During these discouraging moments, GOD certainly is our:

R – Rock of Strength
E – Energizing God
F – Faithful Friend
U – Unchanging One
G – Gracious Father
E – Eternal King

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

R – Recognize the problem and admit it
E – Escape (or pull back) from the situation to get a better perspective on it
F – Find someone to confide in who can help us in the situation
U – Unburden our hearts to that person
G – Grow through the circumstance
E – Equip ourselves to help others when they face the same struggles

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” – Deuteronomy 33:27

My prayer is that you would look to God in “every” circumstance of life and find that He is everything you ever needed and more. He loves you and cares for you! He will be your safe place!

January 30, 2011

God Meets Us in Our Greatest Burdens

Lets Have a Bible Study!
On Thursday, I posted the results of a U.S. pastor’s congregational survey of the “burdens” that members of his church identified as things they were dealing with.  Later that day, I considered the list in the light of a particular scripture verse in Isaiah, and posted my thoughts at Christianity 201. I’m reprinting it here not because it’s one of my best posts or an example of my finest writing, but because it basically shows my Bible study process taking place.  Some simple steps here — not in order — include (a) checking the context; (b) using multiple translations; (c) using study Bible notes; and (d) using Bible commentaries.  And of course, (e) asking blog readers for their suggestions!


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

January 20, 2011

Before You Take Your Life

You know who you are.

I don’t know what combination of events over days, months or even years has brought you to this place right now, right this minute, of reading these words; but if the five words at the top of this article arrested you in your tracks somehow, then this is for you.

As I type this, some friends of ours are dealing with a situation for which we had hoped there would be a very different outcome.  There is great sadness, all because someone was going through a tough time, and perhaps, as we do in tough times, was looking for an exit sign.

Not finding one, they created their own exit.

I believe in a lot of things.  I am a person of many strong convictions.  And yes, some of those are spiritual convictions; the kinds of things I am going to wager that you’ve already heard about many times.

But I’m also a believer in legacy.  And I’m not sure that this is the legacy you want to leave.  They might find kind words to say in eulogy and remember good times upon reflection, but anytime your name is mentioned, it would be indelibly marked with the mental notation, “That’s the person who took their own life.”

Don’t do it.

The annals of history are filled with stories of people who reached the point of despair at which you find yourself right now; but people who pushed past that point and now live to tell the story.  When you’ve reached bottom, they will tell you, then you’re at the point where you can only look up.

My friend Ray, a former body-builder once said to me, “Paul, I know exactly what you went through in gym class in high school.  You started running and then as you started huffing and puffing you realized you were tired and decided to just walk.  Everyone else pushed past their tiredness and finished the course.”

Pushed past.

Kept running.

Kept going.

Even when it hurt.

Even when it seemed impossible.

I believe that God specializes in the impossible.  He says, “Call me and I’ll show you an answer that you didn’t think of.” I truly and honestly believe that. There are answers, and solutions, and hope even in the deepest darkness in which you find yourself presently consumed.  Answers you simply haven’t seen yet. Jesus said, “Get away from it all with me and you’ll recover your life.”

God will make a way, where there seems to be no way.  Please watch this video. And then click back here.

I know there’s someone reading this right now, and you’ve never heard that God loves you.  Hear it now.  The God who created the universe loves you.

To all the hearts that have been broken
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams
To everyone in need of a friend
You are loved!  You are loved!

To all the rebels wounded in battle;
To all the rockers that have lost that beat;
To all the users all used up;
You are loved!  You are loved!

God’s love is real and unconditional and available to you right this minute.  You prayer can be as simple as, “God, have mercy on me.”   Here’s a prayer that I’ve prayed many, many times myself:

God.
I’m broken
I don’t know what do.
Oh, God.
I’m broken
I’m broken before You.

Sometimes I’m thinkin’ that I’m never gonna see the light.
Fear what tomorrow may bring.
But then I remember what you said in your word;
‘There’s a time to laugh, a time to sing.’

God.
I’m aching.
It cannot be denied.
Oh, God.
I’m hurting.
I’m hurting deep inside.

It’s raw, it’s honest and it’s very transparent.  Just a scared person crying out to God.

And I believe he meets me every time I cry out to him.

And I believe he will do the same for you.

Push past.

October 1, 2010

Brian Doerksen’s Live Worship Experience

So here I am in the most unusual position of reviewing an Integrity Music worship DVD which is not available in the United States.   Not so far.  Truly, that doesn’t happen very often.

I’m talking about Level Ground a new two-hour worship video event from Brian Doerksen, the Canadian worship leader and songwriter best known for songs such as, Refiner’s Fire, Come Now is the Time to Worship, You Shine, Today (As For Me and My House), Light the Fire Again; and many, many more. I’m a huge fan of his Today DVD — imagine watching a series of songs while actors re-enact Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall — and was not disappointed by his newest take on producing a worship video.

You know the criteria for good worship DVDs right? Great worship songs. A tight band. Memorable song introductions. Good camera shots of the audience and worship team.   Lots of cheering at the end of each song.

Forget all that. On Level Ground – The Live Experience, Brian focused on the idea of intimacy in worship. Recorded over two evenings, Brian brought together a much smaller group of people to a barn located on a B.C. nut farm.   These are people he knows; people that he and the worship band are doing life with, and throughout the video, he introduces about a dozen of them and allows them to tell their salvation story, or as he puts it, their “grace stories.”

With all this background, Brian’s friends become your friends. You worship along with people you know, as the smaller crowd means recurrent crowd shots of the same individuals.*

Wait! Let me qualify what I mean by “crowd shots.” There is no crowd. No audience. The band is placed around the floor of the barn interspersed among the worshipers. No musicians are on a stage or platform. The title song reminds us of the saying that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross;” and the arrangement of the musicians on all fourteen songs stands as a reminder, a reinforcement of this principle.

Welcome to the place of level ground
Welcome to the place where grace abounds
We all need mercy
We all need mercy
Welcome to the place where none can boast
Welcome to the place compassion flows
We all need mercy
We all need mercy

By its own admission, Level Ground is a hybrid; part concert, part worship experience, part talk show; with the visual additions of fine art and dance.   Of the 14 songs, almost all new, my favorite was “Whatever Comes,” a reminder that no matter what the evening news has to say about the world, God is with us.

Whatever comes
Cultures will rise as nations fall
Troubles will challenge and assault
Your Word will stand above them all
Whatever comes
All we cannot comprehend
Disasters will break the pride of men
And you will be faithful to the end

Almighty, immortal,
Love is on your throne
Sovereign, in control
Unchanging, prevailing
Though the nations rage
You’re still the God who reigns

Here’s a six-minute preview of the video on Vimeo.

For readers outside Canada, if all of this has piqued your curiosity, until this one is released, I can’t recommend the Today video strongly enough.

Read a review of Brian’s book on the subject of worship, Make Love, Make War (David C. Cook)  here.

*Knowing the stories of the people you’re worshiping with — Is there a theme here?  Check out yesterday’s review of The Strategically Smaller Church.

Level Ground is also available (and will presumably be also released in the U.S. later) as an audio CD.

No “nut farm” jokes were used in the preparation of this review.

July 29, 2010

For Those Who Have Suffered a Loss

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

Lisa Elliott is a mother of four, closing in on the first anniversary of her son Ben’s passing away due to cancer.     Her writings on Facebook (group name: The Ben Ripple) would — and I believe someday will — fill a book.

Ode to Joy

This past few weeks and as we draw closer to August 19 when it will be one year since Ben changed addresses David and I have been incredibly sad. This past Sunday in particular, for no specific reason, was extremely sad and emotional for me. It wasn’t my typical “tidal wave” of emotion that hit me. Rather, it was more like a “tsunami” and it took me under for most of the day.

But for those of you who are worried that I’ve lost my joy – have no fear. I find her every Sunday at church! In fact, she saves me a seat in the back row and remains with me until the last person has evacuated. Joy has been a gift to me. Let me describe her to you:

Joy understands the pain of losing someone you love. (Joy lost her father 14 years ago this past Sunday.)

Joy told me on Sunday that some days it’s easier to just be numb because to feel is to be in pain. (I thought that was very profound.)

Joy also knows that God can only heal pain when we allow ourselves to feel it.

Joy is soft-spoken and a woman of few words, but her presence assures me that no words can reach into the deep places of my heart that are meant for God alone.

Joy gives me the time and space I need to meet God in my pain.

Joy stands aside and doesn’t interfere with what God is doing in the deep inner recesses of my heart.

Joy doesn’t try to fix me. Joy has no words of advice for me. Joy just listens.  She fully realizes that the kind of healing I need, God alone can give.

Joy is okay with my pain.

Joy knows full well that sometimes there are just no words to describe my pain.

Joy lets me be real about my raw feelings and doesn’t leave my side just because I’m having a bad day.

Joy reminds me that although the pain never fully goes away, it will get easier to deal with in time.


Joy assures me that eventually I will remember happy memories of Ben with a smile on my face and not just a tear in my eye.

Joy demonstrates to me that life can go on, making new memories and learning new things about God as I do.

Joy rejoices with me and my small baby-step victories.

Joy has told me that it’s okay to want to be alone to rest, recover and take the necessary time to heal.

Joy has warned me to be real about my pain and not try to conceal it.

Joy celebrates the ways that God is using my pain to reach others and sees the potential of the “ripple effect” in and through my life.

Joy allows me to worship through my tears.

Joy sings alongside me and my pain in a beautiful harmony.

Joy lets me be sad when I’m with her and has shown me firsthand that joy and pain can truly co-exist.

Joy sounds an awful lot like another joy I know; the joy of the Lord. Yes, I have grown to love the person Joy but she would be the first one to remind me that the joy of the Lord that is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10)

“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11).

This is my “Ode to Joy”

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).

June 5, 2010

Blessed Are The Broken: Our Hope for the Future

I want to say that this picture was contrived.   I really do.  But even it is, is it that far from the truth?

I also want to believe that the various meetings advertised here are outreach events the church itself is presenting, but in all likelihood they are simply room rentals.  Does it matter, if the need is real?

I want to believe that the sermon advertised for Sunday morning will address this dichotomy, but  in all likelihood, it will consist of “heads in the clouds” platitudes.  Did anyone at the church see the contrast?

I want to wish for things to be different, but deep down, I know that the people who attend Monday to Saturday are often the same people who are seated in the pews on Sunday morning.   Or their proxies.  These are the people for whom Christ died.

Jesus can do more with broken people than he can with people who have it all together.   The addicted, the abused, the abusers, the impoverished, the homeless, the users, the people with no self image, the people dealing with temptation, the people on the brink of despair; these are all the people who can be America’s hope for the future.

The future never looked as bright as when you know you’ve reached bottom and there’s nowhere lower down you can go.    I hope it was a great sermon!

Picture is from Friends of Irony, a Cheezburger Network website.

May 24, 2010

Your Pastor’s Emotional Rollercoaster Ride

If you’re like most of us, you attended church somewhere yesterday, heard a good sermon, and probably picture your pastor today with his feet up, reading the paper while sipping fruit juice;  relaxing on Monday.   But a pastor’s life isn’t like that; not for a minute.  If physical stress doesn’t weigh heavy, often emotional stress does.

I was going to save this post by Pete Wilson of Nashville’s Crosspoint Church for Wednesday’s link list, but I really want to make sure y’all read it in full.   (Yes, I’m writing from Canada, and I just said “y’all.”  Go figure.)  Besides, it’s a holiday Monday nationally here, and my creative department is shut down for the day!   The picture — which he posted the next day — is Pete Wilson on the golf course with Max Lucado.   I had to retouch it a bit to make sure it wasn’t just a generic guy in a hat!


‘Whiplash’ is a word I’ve used more than once when describing the emotions I often go through as a pastor.

Yesterday was a difficult day.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I need to write this now more than you need to read it, so please bear with me. Let me give you a little back story to help you understand.

Over the course of the past two years Brandi and I have had two sets of friends who have experienced the loss of a baby. Todd and Angie Smith who lost their baby after two hours of life and Mike and Holly Phelps who lost their baby late in their first pregnancy.

I can’t even begin to imagine the heavy heartache and deep loss they went through. And while getting pregnant again doesn’t take a way that pain, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that both couples were once again pregnant.

While each couple faced their own unique challenges, they were both on track to have healthy babies. I couldn’t help but think of what a bitter sweet experience it would be for both of them. A glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkness they’ve been walking through.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, in hospitals just two blocks away from each other, both couples had an pre-term delivery.

Yesterday morning I walked into two different hospital rooms. Both scenes could not have been more similar and yet more different.

Both rooms had moms who were laying in hospital beds. Both rooms had dads who were right by the bed holding and rocking a tiny infant.

However, the similarities end there as one baby was breathing and the other was not.

Todd and Angie’s room was full of prayers, crying and pure joy.  There was life.

Mike and Holly’s room was full of prayers and crying, but no joy.  No life.

The whole way to the Phelp’s room I cried. I knew the situation I was walking into. I cried out to God…

How could this happen to them again?

Why God, would you allow this family to endure this pain yet again?

Haven’t they been through enough?

Why God?

I’ve been criticized in certain circles for writing a book called Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?, which is about God, crisis and pain.  A book that clearly states I don’t think there are answers to all of life’s questions and complexities.

I dare any one of those critics to stand in the room with this young couple and even try to answer all of the questions they had yesterday as they sit there holding their lifeless child.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this as a pastor, but I’m going to anyway… Isn’t it amazing how in a moment like that you so desperately want God near, but at the same time you also feel secretly mad at Him?

  • Reality for Christians often means we have more questions than we do answers.
  • Reality is sometimes lacking the faith that will give us a sustained hope.
  • Reality is even though we know God is with us sometimes we feel completely alone.
  • Reality is even though we believe, we also doubt.

There’s a big difference between trust and understanding. They say trust is what we need when we don’t have understanding. So today I’m praying for trust. A big, huge, helping of trust.

It’s funny but the final paragraph of Plan B says,

I’m asking you to trust that one day faith will win over doubt, that light will win over darkness, love will win over hate, and all things will one day be redeemed. I’m asking you, right in the middle of your Plan B pain, to trust this process that is going on in your life.

I never knew when I wrote those words how much I would need them on a day like today.

~Pete Wilson, pastor and blog-author of Without Wax.

May 3, 2010

Pete Wilson: An “A” Quality Examination of Life’s Plan B Experiences

I believe that with this single book, Pete Wilson moves outside the circle of American pastors and bloggers and into the arena of people we consider major Christian voices for this generation.

I had a bit of an advantage here.   After years of being aware of Nashville pastor Pete Wilson through his blog, and listening to several of his sermons and video posts, I was able to hear his voice in my head as I read each page.   I’ve been impressed over the years with Pete’s complete honesty and transparency as someone walking the journey of life as we all do, albeit in the set-apart position of vocational ministry.

So I really, really wanted to be included among the 500+ people who are posting reviews of this book today as part of a blitz by the publisher, Thomas Nelson.    The book is Plan B – What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? Knowing this was his first time in print having to compete for the attention of North American Christians in a crowded publishing market, I was a little unsure how Pete would fare.

Here’s my review:

This is a landmark book.

Using a large number of examples from the lives of people Pete has pastored in Kentucky and Tennessee; combining in the Biblical examples of David, Joseph, Job, Ruth, and even Jesus; and finally mixing in quotations from some of today’s most popular contemporary Christian authors; Pete delivers a treatment of his subject that would be thorough enough to meet the most rigid academic requirements, but is delivered in a totally grassroots, down-to-earth, unpretentious style.

However…

This is not an easy book to digest.   Life is hard.   This is not a feel-good book with rhyming couplet sayings.   There are chapters that seem to ask more questions than provide answers.   In the end — spoiler alert! — there is no pastoral closing scene with a golden sunset or a rainbow against a blue sky.

If anything, I got the impression that as someone who has been pastoring for just a little over a decade, Pete has had more than his share of being with people at the deepest moments of personal crisis and tragedy.

When I was pastoring in Kentucky, I would often ride with law-enforcement officials after someone had been murdered or killed in a car accident.  The officers liked having me along when they went to inform the next of kin.   I still remember the sick feeling I would get when we pulled into a driveway to do that sad job.  I would think, Inside that house is a family just living their lives, going through the normal routine.  They have no idea how my next few words are going to turn their very life upside down forever.

Not a book for people — including myself at times — who would like to bury their heads and deny that life often presents us with seemingly impossible challenges.  But a book that finds there is hope to be found at the foot of the cross.

I found the overall pacing and writing of the book very similar to another title (from the same publisher) Fearless by Max Luacdo.   I think that fans of Lucado’s writing would find this a very comfortable fit for their library, if they’re open to trying a new author.   I won’t labor the similarities, but they are many.

But I also think there’s another application here:  I think that pastors and counselors should buy this book, read it, and then have an extra copy handy to give to people who suddenly find themselves in the valley.    This is an author who understands, who gets it.

Finally, I think there’s yet another direction for Plan B, which is hinted at in an eleven-page set of study questions at the back:  This would be an excellent group study.   We all experience unique trials and we all process these difficulties differently.   What better healing process than to get people sharing some of the darkest times in their lives with others who have had, are having, or will have similar times where God seems conspicuously absent?   Combining the first two chapters also yields a viable 13-week adult study curriculum.

Those of us who’ve enjoyed Pete’s blog, Without Wax, or listened to sermons at Cross Point already knew what Pete Wilson was all about.   I believe with this single book, Pete steps into the circle of people we consider significant Christian voices in North America and beyond.

Plan B – What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? by Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson, 244 pages paperback, May, 2010)

November 28, 2009

Salvation Army Kettles Go High-Tech

It had to happen sooner or later.   The contribution kettles manned by volunteers in our communities — some still with audible ringing sleigh bells, but most silenced by city ordinances and mall requests — have gone online.  The program is called iKettle.    Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

I found out about this from fellow-Canadian blogger Rick Apperson, and after mulling it over for several weeks, decided that if we could raise nearly $4,600 to sponsor my oldest son’s summer working at Camp Iawah, using our mailing list alone, we ought to be able to raise at least that much for the Salvation Army.

After a disastrous start where I actually gave the wrong e-mail address, my kettle was off and running.   I set the goal modestly at $1,000 figuring we would surpass that by the end of the weekend.  Within a half hour of the e-mails going out, the total started increasing, and then it came to a sudden halt.

Which is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in.   You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change.   Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies.   Besides, this year, with so many unemployed or underemployed, the SA needs significant contributions to meet the needs in local areas.

So here’s where you go to contribute*.

BTW, for what’s worth, I don’t like the whole “sponsor me” script on the webpage.   You’re not sponsoring us at all.   Some web designer got that one past them before it could be thought through more carefully.   How about, “Make a Difference;” or even “Contribute”?    Then there’s the liability with the button that allows you to read the text I wrote.   I ended with “Please give generously.”   But the more/less button after the paragraph means your brain sees, “Please give generously less.”   Not good planning, but it’s their first year doing this.

*For my U.S. readers — and there are lots of you — I couldn’t find a direct link to the U.S. program, and their regional websites are a bit of a dog’s breakfast;  but it’s probably better for you to contact the SA in your local area to find out ways an online donation can serve your own community.

This Christmas our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home.   This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in a year that’s been rough on many people.

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