Why? Why? Why?

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Guest post by James N. Watkins

If you have children,nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is why.

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on itgoes-right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all ourtroubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the why questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins. Browse and buy at jameswatkins.com/asaph/

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Heavy Hearted

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Apolitical. That’s how I would describe myself.

Early in my ministry, I was told that this was the route I was to take, and the lot I was to accept. Over the years, I have often wondered how so many of my colleagues missed that memo.

During political campaigns I have dodged nearly all the polarizing conversations. I have avoided endorsing candidates or issues. Rarely, if ever, have I even had private conversations on such matters. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to express myself. To the contrary, I have had to bite my tongue or leave the room on numerous occasions.

Perhaps that’s why I find writing this right now so difficult. Maybe it’s also why I have been recently struggling to write at all. I’m a jumbled up mess of feelings and opinions with no outlet. I have had no voice, and now I’m afraid to speak.

Yet, here I am.

And you might find it humorous where and why I found my motivation to break my silence.

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Star Trek, Next Generation.

My husband is a Trekkie from way back. Yesterday, on his day off, there was episode after episode on our TV. And episode after episode explored topics of importance and interest in ways that laid out the issues and left the observer to come to their own decision and awareness. My suggestive mind then dreamt the entire night in Star Trek fashion.

As a result I woke up this morning in a exceptionally malleable state. Not always a good thing for someone as naive and impressionable as myself. And probably not the best time to go scrolling through Facebook.

But I did.

And what I read nearly broke my heart.

First, there’s this whole health care mess. I read a lengthy post by my friend Jules in KC. She has an amazing way of piercing my heart with her words and her photographs. Her honest response reminded me of an exchange I had at our local hospital as I paid a bill that I could not afford. I looked at the clerk, who was only doing her job–and in a completely professional manner (this wasn’t about her at all)–and said, “It might be cheaper to just die.”

I couldn’t believe I used my ‘out-loud’ voice in such an inappropriate manner. My mother would have been appalled.

But it’s how I felt…and that feeling came back in a overwhelming rush as I read my friend’s response to a proposed bill that’s being rushed through congress.

You see, I’m one of those people whose life defines pre-existing conditions.

Then, in the comments of her post someone made a statement about the way we shuffle people off to nursing homes and rely on expensive medical procedures others ultimately pay for (like knee replacements) instead of just sucking it up and plodding on. I’m not sure what planet this guy lives on, but my mother’s husband has severe Alzheimer’s disease, is military veteran, and they can’t get any assistance, nor can they afford to put him someplace where professionals can keep him safe and deal with his erratic mood swings. And my husband has lived with chronic moderate to severe back pain (think bulging and herniated discs, spurs up and down his spine) since the 80’s because we have never had insurance coverage that would have allowed us to address any of it.

And I know our situation is a drop in the bucket compared to others. We are aware of loving couples who have had to “divorce” or been forced to live together unmarried (both which go against their personal convictions) to be able to just cover medicinal needs.

Our system is broken and it doesn’t seem anyone knows how to fix it.

So today my heart is aching and breaking…unfortunately, it is a pre-existing condition.

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Pursue Peace

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(This was written right after the tragic events in August in Charlottesville. I thought I posted it–perhaps it needed to percolate a little longer and be posted on International Peace Day. Perhaps.)

I will confess, I wrestled with God yesterday morning as I woke early and headed to my computer to make the revisions I received as He roused me from my comfortable slumber.

Before I climbed into bed I had been watching and reading all the news coming out of Charlottesville. My heart and mind were troubled…confused. I don’t understand hate–especially not the kind I was seeing and reading about.

I made it through the service…prayerfully and not without tears. Heavy-hearted, but less afraid. God is still in control–even if I don’t know how that will play out–and I choose to trust.

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Earlier in the week, when the focus was on the crisis with Korea, a phrase from an old hymn came to mind: “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

The song came back to me this morning. I know it’s a “Christmas” song, but the words (feelings) are powerful and poignant.

 

Bottom line: God is not dead nor does he sleep. The awareness and presence of God is what is truly supreme.

I’m holding onto that and looking for places where I can plant seeds of peace, of healing. I want my life to be one of those ringing bells the song speaks of–waking and alerting others to the God of peace.

Generosity

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I am challenged today to think about my giving. Facebook just reminded me that April is National Donate Life Month. Several years ago, one of my friends donated a kidney to her father. More recently, another friend donated one of his kidneys to his wife’s aunt. Talk about generosity!

Today, I probably won’t be donating anyone a kidney, unless I’m dead, and then everything gets donated. So what can or will I give? I can give a hug to the woman who just lost her husband. I can share a smile with the cashier who just doesn’t think anyone really notices her. I can send a card to that shut in who feels all alone. I can respond to the list of needs for a family that just lost everything in a fire.

Giving can cost all or nothing at all. When I thought about that I was reminded of the Macedonian church that gave to the offering Paul was gathering for the needy. They were experiencing severe trial and they gave beyond their ability to give. I went and looked the passage up and found this in verse 8: test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

I had never noticed that before!

I am humbled today by the generosity of my friends. And I’m challenged. I don’t want to be found short when it comes to being generous. I want to be earnest and sincere. How about you?

Lenten Thoughts: He Knows Your Name

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I used to go to the coolest church. No, really I did. At that church, we had Blessings and Miracles. I know most churches have blessings and miracles, but our Blessings and Miracles were families. We even had a Gentile family. I remember one Sunday that Pastor pointed out that there was a pew full of Blessings and Miracles. What was really cool was being around these people left one truly with a sense of Blessings and Miracles. And the Gentiles really were.

Naming a child is huge responsibility. I remember the hours pouring over name books when I was pregnant. I wanted our children to have names they could grow into. I’ll admit, when I hear some of the names chosen these days, it makes me sad. It’s as if the only consideration is oddity and shock value.

Names are interesting in the Bible, too. I’m not sure I would have been happy if I was Jacob (supplanter or heel grabber) or Esau (red and hairy). Or imagine going through life as Jabez, whose name means pain. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of any Jezebels or Ahaz lately.

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How do you feel when someone calls out your name? I always knew when I was in trouble because my mother would use my middle name. My husband has names for me that only he uses. My immediate family and very close friends call me something special. When I am addressed that way something in my heart instantly softens. And nothing compares to one of the grandbabies running at me shouting, “Mema!”

In John 10:3, Jesus tells the crowd, “The gate keeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

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The Father knows your name. He whispers it when you’re frightened. He calls to you, wanting to lead to the green pastures and calm streams. He shouts it when you’re headed toward trouble. He has a sweet, special name for you. Sometimes he will change your name, giving you a name you can grow into one that will glorify him.

Have you heard him call your name? Have you been listening?

Lenten Thoughts: Sweet Aroma or Stench?

 

 

 

 

 

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Be sensitive but always be sweet in the eyes of God.15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15, NIV).

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I used to work in a gas station convenience store. I always knew when it was 3:15 because a certain woman came to buy a cappuccino on her way to work and she wore a distinctive perfume. After spending a shift in a stale aired place catching her scent always made me smile.

Not every smell was quite as pleasant. I also knew when the vet students came in from the farms. I knew when the stoners were making a run for munchies. I knew when the newspaper delivery guy who was a chain smoker walked into the shop.

And don’t get me started on the bathrooms.

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Smells are incredibly powerful and can evoke all kinds of emotions. Experts tell us that before a child can ever really distinguish her mother’s face she knows her mother’s smell. My neighborhood was full of the smells of barbeque grilling this past weekend. All kinds of memories can be evoked by the smell of homemade bread or fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies. Home sellers are encouraged to create very pleasant smells in their homes when prospective buyers are touring.

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People can be very sensitive to smells. It is considered selfish and inconsiderate in social settings for people to wear fragrances due to allergies and extreme sensitivities. What was once thought to be pleasant and appropriate can now result in asthma attacks. I love my husband’s aftershave, but I can’t convince him that less is better. He seems to be unable to smell a single spritz so he crosses a line into overkill and overpower.

Do our responses to the aromas of life have anything to do with our scripture from Paul? Yes.

Paul’s words came to mind the other night when I walked into my house after work and received an olfactory blast. My husband had marinated some salmon and had it baking in the oven. The smell caused instant salivation, and a hope for a delicious dinner. In the middle of our scrumptious meal, our younger daughter stopped by to drop something off. She immediately screwed up her nose, and complained about the awful fishy smell.

How could it be both?

Our lives as believers will leave an impression. For some, it will be pleasant. For others, however, it will be considered stench. We can be considerate to not overpower, but we cannot afford to allow political correctness or social convention to rob us or dilute the truth of who we are in Christ.

Be sensitive but always be sweet in the eyes of God.

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Lenten Thoughts: Suffering

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Several years ago I helped with a “Prayer Journey to the Cross” at church. Similar to the Stations of the Cross, participants move through Jesus’ final week on earth before his crucifixion. I was responsible for two stations, The Betrayal and The Garden of Gethsemane.

I partnered with an amazingly creative woman for the Garden Station. As soon as I knew the focus was suffering, I had an idea for the station. I called my friend and asked her if she could put together a video loop of pictures of suffering and tie it to music. When I got the CD from her, I was blown away. The images and the music made a powerful statement about the human experience of suffering.
I have known my share of disappointments. I’ve gone through some difficult times. I’ve grieved the loss of friends and family. Things have been tight financially, but we’ve never gone hungry or wondered where we’d sleep at night. I’ve never really suffered. Not like the people in those pictures. We lost our home when the restaurants failed and I lost my livelihood. We had two auctions and sold the lion’s share of our belongings, but we always had a place to live and way more stuff than we can use.

Suffering.

Life will always have struggles. And while I can identify certain struggles that will follow and impact me for the rest of my life—consequences of poor decisions—I can also several blessings in my life. I am married to an amazing man who blesses me every day. I have two daughters and three grandchildren who bring me immeasurable joy. I have the best friends in the world. I am privileged to serve and pastor a wonderful group of people. I’m reasonably healthy.

How will I use my life, with all its blessings, to ease some other person’s suffering?

At each of the stations there will be an item the participants will take away with them. When they are in the Garden they will receive a hand (a construction paper cutout). They will be invited to write the name of a person or group who is suffering on the hand and then ask God how they can be his hands to that person or group.

I know you don’t have the video. I know you can’t hear the music. But you can hear His voice. Whose suffering can you ease today? Will you let him write that name on your hands and in your heart?