Tag Archives: God

When Violence Happens, Our Questions Are Hard

welovekalamazoo

Saturday evening, just a few hundred yards from where I pastor, the sister of one of students in our youth ministry was shot as part of a shooting spree where eight people were shot. Two continue to fight for their lives and six were killed in the shootings.

What do I write about all that is in my heart about this? How do I take what doesn’t really have words and give it voice?

It would be easy to turn this into an opportunity to talk about guns; or to talk about our violence culture; or to make this into some sort of political stump to stand on. But this post won’t be about that. And so if you have an urging within you to say something political, I want to ask you to hold it in. At least for just a little bit?

Political agendas around gun control and a violence culture cheapen, and even belittle, the grief of families and the questions a tragedy such as this bring to the surface.

As a community we are asking the deeper questions – and doubt. Questions that begin with “why.” Why did this have to happen? Where is God in the midst of this? How does a good and loving God allow such things to happen? Why did a father and son have to die? Why were four women, friend, killed for apparently no reason?

These are the questions that need to be asked by the community at this time. These are good, hard questions that get at the core of faith and if it is even worth having faith. Yes, you read that right. I think it is a good thing to even wrestle with if it is worth having faith. (I think I just felt some of your anxiety go up didn’t I?). Unless we get to the root of that question, and if we go to quickly to platitudes, I am not sure we really have faith or if it is a deep faith…?

It’s a question even as much as it is a statement.

I wonder if we can consider for a moment that even Jesus had questions. Deep and difficult questions. Addressed to God the Father.

In Matthew (one of my 4 favorite Gospel accounts) Jesus begins to ask his Father if he has to suffer in the way he knows is coming. Twice in chapter 26 Jesus asks if the “cup” of his suffering might be taken away. The first time is recorded like this, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Troubled and sorrowful, Jesus asks to not have to go through suffering. In Luke 22 it is recorded that Jesus’ anguish is so deep that his sweat was like drops of blood.

If Jesus is able to question God in such a troubling way, why don’t we? I think it is because doubt and questions make most of us uncomfortable most of the time. We want things tidy. We want simple answers to make sense of our world.

But simple answers elude. Especially now. Especially here.

Let’s go even further. Jesus’ last words on the cross are also a question. Directed at God. Full of suffering, pain and anguish, in Matthew 27 Jesus cries out loudly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The last words of the pre-Easter Jesus is the question “why” cried out to God. And there is no resolution for Jesus before his death. He dies on the cross with those words still hanging in the air. And unlike at Jesus’ baptism, we are left without a response from Heaven…

I want to invite you to let the question hang there. Why God? Why did six people have to die from a random act of violence on Saturday? Why did it have to happen here, now? Why?

Jesus’ question hung in the air.

And it was in the emptiness of the question that the resurrection took place. It was in the midst of the fear and doubt and hiding of the disciples that God the Father then stepped in.

The resurrection didn’t take place at the Triumphal entry, when it was cool to hang with cat who healed people and stood against the religious leaders of the day.

The resurrection didn’t happen when life was good.

The resurrection took place.

It took place in the midst of deep questions, fear and sadness…

Kalamazoo, let your questions sit out in the open. Ask them. Keep asking them. Jesus loves you.

 


Dr. Dobson – I love you, but I think you got it wrong.

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Dr. Dobson, you got it wrong. No doubt you are smarter than I am, but you still got it wrong. And, I confess Dr. Dobson, I am angry about your post (read it here) and so I am sure there will be a bit more sarcasm than usual. But you got it wrong.

Most studies I read indicate that anywhere from 25-33% of the women in the United States are in relationships where there is physical abuse taking place. That means 1 out of 4 or 1 out of 3 of the women we all see at the grocery store, gas station and walking their cute children around our neighborhoods are being hit by their spouses or partners. These are real people, people we know, living in very real fear because the danger around them is not made up but is very real.

Dr. Dobson I believe it is irresponsible to encourage Laura, or any person in an abusive relationship, to provoke the abuser. In fact, I believe it is even irresponsible to encourage her to stay in the house. In her letter to you, which you replicated on your post, indicates that not only does he rage at her, but does so at the children as well. She, and so many others, is in physical (as well as psychological, emotional and spiritual) danger as indicated that she is being beaten with his fists, has had teeth loosened, been cut, and in fear for her life.  She is even in fear for having contacted you!

I wonder.

What if the next fit of rage happens while she is near stairs? What if during the next exchange she is hit so hard she falls and hits her head on something hard sustaining a closed head brain injury? What if they are in the kitchen and he happens to have a knife in his hand?

I wonder how the trauma of being beaten is impacting Laura’s understanding of God’s love and grace? I wonder what their children are learning about being men and women? I wonder…

I wonder who will raise their children if he accidentally kills her in his rage? Did you know that each day, 3 women die from domestic abuse?

Dr. Dobson, I wish you had encouraged Laura, and others in her situation, to find a safe place for herself and her children. I wish you had offered to help Laura created a safe exit strategy.

Laura, your husband’s rage is not your fault. You and your children ARE NOT responsible for his violence. You were not created to be the recipient of his violent outbursts. Loving your husband does not mean staying in a dangerous situation. You were created in the image of God and you are deeply loved by him. There is pain in leaving, but there is no shame or condemnation.

And while I know there are no simple answers and the ramifications of domestic violence runs deep, I do know the answer is not to stay and provoke him until his rage is uncontrollable again. It takes great courage to leave an abusive spouse. I know, I have helped others do so. And your leaving may just be enough to create the crisis needed for him to seek help.

Laura, the toughest, but maybe the most loving thing you can do, for your husband, your children and yourself, is to leave and find a safe haven.


Awkward…!

imageThe half dozen or so people were spread throughout the fitness center. Each one doing her, or his, own thing.  Most were on some sort of cardio machine and only one other was over by the free weights of this Houston area Planet Fitness.  I followed the unwritten rules of gym ettiquette (mostly because it wasn’t my regular gym) and worked out without engaging anybody in conversation.

It’s an interesting phenomenom, belonging to large nationwide gym.  And with Planet Fitness’ “no gymtimidation” policy, most people work out in silence, with headphones on and only on occassion even making eye contact.  Even then the eye contact is usually some sort of non-verbal communication around the use of a piece of equipment – not relationship…

Not here. Not Houston’s little PF on Fondren.  Not with LeRoy.

Let’s face it, public locker rooms are always a bit awkward; and when you are leaving the shower area with your towel wrapped around your waist, you feel particularly vulnerable!  Just saying… That’s how it was for me when I met LeRoy. Still sweating from my workout, but freshly showered before heading to the couple’s therapy training I’m in Houston for, I had my towel around my waist when I hear a southern accent say, “I don’ think I’ve seen you ‘roun’ here before?”

I look to my right and there before me is a tall, thin African American of about 60 years of age. He had a huge smile and held out his hand, “LeRoy.”

“Brian.”  And inside my head there is only one word sreaming loudly, AWKWARD!!!

LeRoy asks when I moved to the area and I explained to him that I was here on sabbatical getting some training on couple’s therapy. LeRoy’s smile immediately is replaced with a look of deep regret.

While we both got ready for the day before us, LeRoy told me about his failed marriage, that he moved to Houston to try and rebuild relationships with his kids and grandchildren, and how much he regretted not working hard to make his marriage work.  He was going to meet his two year old grandson for the first time later that day.

As I was getting ready to leave, he told me to learn a lot. Then he paused and asked, “Would you pray for me today? Maybe you have more pull with the Big Guy than I do.”

I’ve never prayed for anyone in a locker room before, at least I don’t think so, but I’m glad I did.  I will probably never see LeRoy again. But I think our world is full of LeRoy’s. People, like you and me, going through life with its struggles and joys, hurts and pleasures, successes and failures.

And all of us longing to connect more deeply with one another and with God.  Only very few of us will find the courage to step out of the unwritten rules of culture and become vulnerable enough to reach out and connect with others. 

I’m really glad LeRoy had the courage to start a conversation in a locker room – even if it was awkward.


My Prayers Grew With Him

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October 31, 1996 (Halloween), two days after his birth, I drove him and his mother home from the hospital.  During that drive I prayed.  And I prayed what I thought to be the most profound prayer ever prayed by a new father.  I prayed, God, don’t let me get in an accident and kill him on our way home!  I don’t know how many times I prayed that prayer during the 15 minute drive from the hospital to our home, but it is a short prayer and I am sure I prayed it hundreds of times before pulling into the driveway while the neighborhood was filling with costumed children out trick or treating.

Married for almost 8 years, I barely knew how to be a husband (still…?) much less a dad, and the profundity of my prayer life continued.  When he would be awake at night my prayer was, Lord, help him fall asleep already! I can’t keep my eyes open any longer! Then, after he fell asleep and I would be gently – oh so gently – placing him into his crib my prayers would deepen further into, Ok God, I putting him down now, keep him sleeping…

And, when his eyes would sometimes open after I laid him down I would have two very different, almost conflicting 3:00am thoughts/prayers that went something like this, God, I love this kid! God, do you hate me?!?!

As exhausting as those first years were, especially as sister and brother came along, they didn’t last long. And as Michael grew and developed, so did I.  I grew up as a dad.  Well, somewhat anyway.  What I do know is this, my prayers grew.  My prayers grew with him.

I prayed for his first day of school.  I prayed for tests.  I prayed for him when he got injured.  I prayed for forgiveness when I blew it.  I prayed he would forgive me when I blew it.  I prayed for his friends.  I prayed as the years went by.

My prayers grew from a starting place of praying for the immediacy of having his needs met (food, sleep, safety, love & shelter) in order that I might have some short term peace, to a place of learning to pray more deeply, for things of more significance and for the longview of his life.

My prayers grew in substance.  Today Michael is an amazing young man enrolled as a freshman in college and my prayers for him are much different.  I do pray for the immediate things still – that he would study hard, learn well, make incredible friends, be exposed to all sorts of great challenges that shape him, etc… But more than that, I pray for longterm fruit of the spirit in his life, for him to give himself to something significant, life giving and helps better the world God so loves.  I pray for lasting joy that overcomes in hardship and trial.  I pray that he would live in, and be a sharer, of the Shalom of God.

My prayers, they grew with him.


Learning Leadership From Horses…?

Craig & Demo2Demo was one of the seven horses we would take out on our ride that day. None of the horses, mind you, were your standard “trail ride” horses that just follow nose to tail while your butt gets sore for an hour. A mustang caught from the wild in Utah, Demo was different. Head strong, independent and a leader in the herd, Demo used to be called Demolition Man – you can figure out why. And I was about to ride him!

But before I could ride him, Craig (our host at Shiloh Ranch – a ministry to ministry families) needed to bring him in. But Demo wasn’t about to let a lead rope be put around his neck and head. He wasn’t about to submit to Craig. Craig wasn’t the leader, wasn’t in charge – Demo was. It took some time for Craig to get Demo separated from the rest of the horses into the smaller corral.

And there I saw a lesson for how God leads us.

Craig would get Demo moving in one direction around the corral by applying pressure. He did this by pointing, using his voice and waving the rope. He never hit Demo, didn’t abuse Demo and never became aggressive with Demo. After he would make several loops in one direction, applying pressure Craig would steer him in the opposite direction. Craig would do this with Demo several times and then he would suddenly stop and lower the rope, his arm and his face so he wasn’t looking at Demo at all.

He waited.

And when Demo didn’t respond, the whole exercise took place again. Sometimes the rhythm was different. The amount of time spent in one direction over another would change. And when it wasn’t expected, Craig would stop – and wait – until Demo moved.

Toward Craig.

Not immediately taking control by slipping the lead rope around the horses neck and head, Craig did something that made me curious. He wrapped his arms around Demo’s neck, nuzzled his cheek against the horse and gently loved on the beautiful mustang. Only then did Craig slip Demo’s lead rope on.

In those ten minutes I saw in Craig and Demo how God has time and time again been at work in my life.

Directing Demo in the corral was consistently done with deep respect for Demo: looking at him the right way, keep a proper distance, using his voice gently and firmly and never frightening or demeaning the horse. And then, when Craig would stop and lower his head, it was an invitation for Demo to draw near. And, when he was ready, he did.

God will often, with amazing love and respect, direct our lives by his Voice, with his hand or with circumstances. But God never forces himself upon us. And, when it is time, God invites us, again, to draw close to him – toward intimacy and purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt 11:28-30

I wonder how God is inviting you to draw near to him today? And for what purpose?

Demo’s purpose that day was to give me a ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. And we had fun!


Mission in the Morning

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Was Jesus a morning person?

So, can I be brutally honest with you?  I hate mornings.  I am not a morning person.  I think over time, because of kids and getting up for work, my body has learned to wake up in the morning.  But I am not a morning person.  And as much as I am high on anyone’s extrovert scale, I don’t like people in the morning.

I love my kids. I love my wife.  I work hard at being somewhat bearable in the morning.  I drink coffee and eat a piece of fruit and as the kids make their way to school I head to the gym to work out.

Because Jesus is perfectly loving…

We’ll call him Bill (not his real name).  He is a morning person. And, he likes to talk – a lot!  He works out in the morning where I do and he is HUGE.  At first it was fine.  For about the first year of going to the gym before I should even be awake, Bill would work his way around the fitness center chatting with everyone he knew.  He didn’t know me and so for months I thought I was safe.

Then one morning we both wanted to use the same machine, and he did it. He stepped over what I thought was the understood line and introduced himself.  With his hand outstretched (attached to a massively muscled arm) he said, “how ya doing?”  From that day forward we haven’t not talked when we see each other at the gym.

At first it was superficial.  Then he took the initiative and began to give me some pointers about my gym routine – and my eating.  Soon he began telling me he’s taking a class in college and struggling with it.  In between sets of cable crossovers I casually ask him, while gasping for breath, what class it is. Bill tells me he is in a creative writing class and had to read some essay about happiness from a “something David somethingorother.”  “Henry David Thoreau?” I ask.

He’s amazed at my knowledge at what he is reading and gives me a fist pound.

Jesus told us that because he is perfect, God will give us only good gifts.  Being on mission with him is one of those gifts!

Over the next several weeks Bill shares with me about the abuse in his childhood which led to his dropping out of school in the late 70’s.  Somewhere in the last decade or so he finally got his GED after 3 years of trying.  In the process of getting his GED they discovered he has a reading disorder called Dyslexia.  He’s taking a college writing class just to “better himself” and keep his mind active. I asked why a creative writing class if he doesn’t read well. He replied, “Why bother learning something you already know? That’s the point of school, to learn what you don’t know.”

Now my morning workout is filled with conversation, between sets of course, about the meanings of words, reading strategies (thanks to my reading teacher bride) and the meaning of what he is reading.  Bill is learning to read, really read, and I believe the Kingdom of God is coming in his life while we talk about “happiness.”

This morning he asked me what I do for a living. When I told him I am a pastor his response was…  Well, we’ll write about that another day maybe…


Love Came To Town Like A Storm

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PANIC

It was a little after 3:00am when her iPhone started going off.  Neither of us were able to rouse ourselves out of deep slumber before it quit and landline (yes, we still have one!) was blaring loudly.  As a pastor, any call at 3:00am isn’t good.  When your wife’s father is dying of bone cancer, it certainly isn’t good.

Cathy got to the phone and the message was clear – she and I were headed to WI as her dad was “actively dying” we were told.  We lay in bed trying to figure out what to do and how to go about doing it… It was Sunday morning, early, and I was slated to preach.  Does she go alone? Does she fly or take a train?  Do we both go early? Do we wait until after church? Who will take care of the kids?

Decision: We will drive together, she wants me with her, after church.  We will get someone to come and stay with the kids so it is as least disruptive for them as possible.

Experiencing Christ’s love through the Church is an amazing thing.  I love the Church!

I sent a text out to a couple of people to see if they can come hang with the kids overnight.  Neither one responds.  It’s 4:00am after all!  So in a couple hours I call and wake one of them up.  She freaks out hearing her pastor’s voice at this time in the morning.  However, she is able to pull herself into consciousness and our two-day profound experience of Love in action begins.

What does that kind of love look like?  It looks like God’s children interrupting their own lives in order to serve others. It looks like Jesus.  It looks like this.

Jesus’ love showed up in Rochelle. Setting aside whatever else she may have had going on that day & night, she takes on being fully responsible for the four teens in our home.  It showed up in her playing Yahtzee by candlelight and sleeping in a cold house because the massive storm the wrecked whole towns in Illinois swept through West Michigan too.

Jesus’ love showed up in Tom. On Sunday evening when we hear from the kids that they have no power, he promptly responds to my text from WI which said, “if still out in the am, would you fire up the generator for me?” He says, “yes.”  No hesitation.  So on the 18th anniversary of his marriage to Julie, he spends hours getting my generator running, getting extra gas for it and running extension cords to all the necessities in the house.

Love showed up in Nanette and Steve. I got a text early Monday morning from my daughter Hayley, “no power, no water, no school – what do we do?”  It’s not even 5:30am in WI after a long night of little sleep!  What do they do…?!? Another early morning text and not only do they let my kids run over to shower and warm up – they took them in for the whole day, fed them, AND when wegot back from WI later that evening, opened their home to my family to sleep someplace warm!

Jesus’ love showed up in Niki.  The consummate taxi driving mom of four, in all the busyness of her own family “post-storm,” loves on us by hauling my daughter around so she can still get to dance for her Nutcracker rehearsals.

Cathy’s dad did pass away just before we got to his bedside.  But that’s ok.  He went to be with Jesus and over the last several months deep reconciliation had taken place.  Everything that

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needed to be said was said.  He is with Jesus.

In the midst of the loss of Cathy’s dad, we never lost peace. Why? Love.  Loved showed up in our lives.

When God’s people choose love – there is a tangible shift in reality.

Everybody you meet today is facing a battle of some kind… Who are you actively loving today?