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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

God's Transition

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.   ---Isaiah 61:1-3  (NASB)

This is the passage Jesus read in the synagogue is his hometown at the outset of his ministry as described in Luke 4.  EXCEPT---he didn’t read it all.  Jesus stopped after the phrase “favorable year of the LORD.”  

Have you ever noticed that?  

Have you ever asked WHY he stopped there?

There is a theme that runs in the scriptures that I describe as the “now and the not yet.”  Jesus quoted the part of the scripture that was being fulfilled in his life:  the anointing of the Spirit of God, the healings and the proclamation of the gospel.  He stopped short of the day of God’s vengeance and the comforting of those who mourn, because those were things that were yet in the future.  

This same idea happens when considering the kingdom of God, which is among us, and yet which also has yet to be established in fullness.  It applies to our character as Christians, which 1 John 3 describes by stating that we are already God’s children, but that it has yet to appear what it is we truly are.  There is a lot of “now and not yet” in the Bible.  We live in the period of promise….some promises fulfilled, some promises yet to come to fruition.

It seems to me a lot of things are like that in life.  As I have mentioned before, we are in that kind of transition ourselves, where part of our life is in the town we have been moving from, and part of it is in the town where our future is to which we are moving.  Part here, part there; part fulfilled, part yet to be accomplished; part looking back and letting go, part looking forward and reaching ahead.

There are lots of times in life that are like that, and divorce is certainly one of those, especially during the period between the filing and the court proceedings that completes the process.  A friend of mine called it a time of “limbo,” during which you aren’t quite disentangled from how your life was, but constrained until the court proceedings to be able to begin how your life is going to be.  You can plan, you can dream, you can mourn, and most of all, you can wait.  But that time in between can be a frustrating time in many ways.  That same sense of waiting can also be frustrating for those of us awaiting the return of Christ while observing all the evils in the world around us.  

I just want to share a simple thought with you today.  Living in the period described as “now and not yet” is simply part of how the life God designed for us works.  God is with us in that time.  He offer us reassurances that the frustrations of the “now” are temporary, because the “not yet” is on the way.  Don’t let living in limbo get the better of you…hang on, because the “not yet” is coming…and it is far better than most of us can imagine while wrestling with the frustrations of the “now.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Staying on Track During Times of Crisis

TOP 10

For those of you who read faithfully, I apologize for the sporadic nature of recent posts.  We are in the process of doing some relocating, which has created a fair degree of upheaval, resulting in a temporary irregularity in the posts.  Eventually, things should level out.  In the meantime, I will post as I am able, so don’t give up!

This week, I have been thinking a lot about how divorce and other crisis moments in life are often times when individuals either draw closer to God or turn away.  I have mentioned this idea before in the not too distant past, but today I wanted to offer some specific, practical steps you can use to help stay on track, and even to let those crises times in your life create a more healthy relationship with God.  

So here are what I would consider to be the top 10 tips to staying on track:

  1. Make church attendance a priority you don’t let slip.  You may end up at a different church, or a different worship time, and may choose to sit in more off by yourself, all of which are fine, but make the habit of participating in worship a non-negotiable.  The body of Christ can be a critical support, even if only in the form of one or two people who walk with you through the crisis.
  1. Find a way to make regular time reading God’s Word.  Even if it is only 5 minutes a day, a paragraph a day, and even if you don’t feel like you are hearing God at all.  It’s a lot like eating breakfast or lunch…some meals are more memorable than others, but tasty or not, each one is important in keeping you going.  This is a critical way to provide opportunity for you to hear God speak on a regular basis.  The Psalms can be a particularly encouraging book to read during this time, as the psalmist often lays bear his own emotional turmoil, and you may find passages that really resonate with your experience.
  1. Seek out an friend at your church who has also been through the process of divorce, to whom you can turn for advice and with whom you can share your pain.  Such a person will understand what you are facing, and can make all the difference in the world.
  1. If the pastor is opening to hearing your struggles, then make a point to keep you pastor informed of where you are at in the divorce process and how things are going for your children.  You don’t have to belabor it all and relive all the details, but a quick update can be helpful.
  1. Choose the moral high ground.  In times of loneliness, uncertainty and/or depression, temptations can abound and it can be easy to grow so hungry for comfort that you drown your sorrows in drink or seek joy in the arms of a lover long before you are ready.  Make every effort to stay on the godly, narrow path, and be quick to get back on track with God should you fall.  For some people, having an accountability partner can be a helpful tool.
  1. Keep in regular contact with a Christian companion with whom you can be honest about your emotions, struggles, fears, wounds and choices.  Even one friend to stand with you can make all the difference.
  1. Find yourself a friend you know is a person of prayer, with whom you can share prayer requests and who will covenant to be praying for you on a regular basis.  Scripture is clear that how much difference it can make to have an intercessor “standing in the gap” on your behalf before God.
  1. Find a good devotional book and include it in your prayer time.   My Finding God devotionals are good in regard to dealing with divorce, but others such as Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, or more recent, Lucado’s God is with You Every Day are good options.  The insights from other godly writers such as these can provide some encouraging tidbits when you are unable to hear God’s voice on your own.
  1. Make time, at least weekly, to be out away from things in a quiet spot where you can be alone to reflect, to pray and to just “be.”  In those moments, express to God what you are feeling and struggling with, and spend time in silence to allow God to speak as well.
  1. Find something each day you can do that can bring a smile.  Read cartoons, subscribe to a “joke of the day” email, plant flowers, watch children at play…something to remind you that joy still exists in the world, and will one day return to your life as well.

These things may end up transforming your relationship with God, and at the least, can keep you from falling away in a time when that is a very high risk.  Don’t fall prey to Satan’s attacks.  God will help you stay strong, but you have to seek his strength for that to happen.  God bless and keep you.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Suggestions for the Single Parent in Summer


Where I live, school is out and the kids are now on summer vacation.  Those of you whose schools go year ‘round, will have a break or two, but it isn’t the same as that wonderful, long stretch of time called “summer vacation.”  

Vacations can be radically different when you are freshly divorced.  Instead of having your life partner to share the planning and the fun, it is up t you to make it happen.  Finance settlements may have impacted your options.  Your schedule is no longer your own, but has to be coordinated around that of your ex’s.  In fact, you may even not feel much like even bothering this year, overwhelmed by depression or loneliness.

On the other hand, you may be feeling a great exuberance, freed from the constraints of your unhealthy marriage, now you can do whatever you want with whomever you want.  You may even be thinking about jumping into another relationship and including that individual in your vacation plans.

I would like to share a bit of advice.  If this is your first summer vacation after divorce, and you are making plans for you and your children, it is important to recognize the struggles your child may be experiencing.  The child may not want to go without the other parent, or complain that it just isn’t the same.  Or the child may demand all sorts of activities that are outside the scope of your altered financial options.  Still others, especially those with limited time with their children, may choose to go all out in an effort to impress their children, to win them over from the ex, or to create a “win” as if it is some kind of competition.  It can get pretty complicated, pretty fast.  

Apart from special vacation trips, summer vacation for kids means things like playing ball, going swimming, fishing, summer camp and just hanging out with friends.  Make sure they know you are supportive of their participation on a ball team by showing up for the games.  Making sure they have opportunities to swim or fish, with friends or with you, can be a simple way to provide security and support.  Take time to think back to your own special memories of summer vacation, and then find ways to update them to match the personalities of your children this summer.

The most important thing to remember is that your children have also entered a new world…their home has drastically altered, and they will long for some kind of stability.  They will likely be grieving and struggling, and need some joyful memories.  In addition, your own emotions may color the whole experience, and you may need to do some self-care in order to appropriately parent your children this summer.  

Therefore, I would suggest the following:
  1. Be true to who you are.  Don’t be making radical changes in this context, and yet, use the opportunity to help your children gain a fresh understanding of the person you are, and what they can count on from you.
  1. Keep it within the family.  The children need time to grieve, and they need to know they are important to you.  Don’t inflict a new person on them until a significant amount of time has passed, and they have made some of the necessary adjustments.
  1. Focus on creating special memories for your children…not extravagant things,  but things that are meaningful for them that will also develop your bond with one another in this tough time.
  1. Find a way to spread some joyful times throughout the summer.  Perhaps a weekly picnic or movie, perhaps going back to a favorite location together, perhaps sharing a new experience together.  In my own life, I made a point to purchase some season tickets to activities that we enjoyed, so that there was already planned out for me some regular family time with my children that I knew would be things they would enjoy.
  1. Make some time for YOU to also have some positive experiences to create special memories.  Maybe you will go somewhere you have always wanted to go, maybe you will reclaim some activities that you enjoyed earlier in life but have not done for years, or maybe you will get involved in some small support group where you can make new friendships.

I guess I would sum this whole discussion up with a simple question:  When your children are grown, and look back on this first summer vacation after the divorce, what is it you would like them to remember about their time with YOU?  The answer to that question will shape what you do.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Are you an Enthusiast?


It has been a hectic couple of weeks, and the blogposts have suffered as a result.  However, I am back now and wanted to share something I experienced that got me thinking.  I was out walking the dog in the neighborhood early one Sunday morning and was passed by some cyclists out for an early start on their bicycle journey.  All of the bikers appeared to be exercise enthusiasts, strong and fit.  I suspect they do things like this regularly.  They were all dressed in the popular biking shorts, looking the part of bicycle racers.  I could be wrong, but I suspect they were going to spend their Sunday morning on their bikes rather than going home to get cleaned up and attend worship after their morning ride.  

I know a number of fitness enthusiasts, and suspect you do as well.  I know other health fanatics who carefully watch the foods that they eat, and consume various supplements and vitamins in their diet.  Other folks focus on their emotional and mental well-being, involving themselves in activities such as regular meditation, therapy and relaxation practices.  There are billions of dollars spent (and made!) every year in these activities that, for some, become almost an obsession.  And yet, so many of the people who are highly committed to healthy mind, body and emotions, like the bicyclists I saw riding by this morning, give little or no thought to their spiritual needs and well being.  

It makes me think of the time Jesus said, 

 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”---Mark 8:36  (NASB)

All of this attention placed upon our physical bodies, upon our mental and emotional health, and yet, the eternal destiny of the soul is, at best, a tangential concern.  Or, worse, the spiritual disciplines practiced are based on human imaginations, with no real basis in history or the divine.  It is a sad thing to consider that these people will enter their grave in great physical, mental and emotional health, but paupers in spirit with no inclination or hope for their eternal destiny.

On the other hand, I have also found myself wondering what our churches would be like if believers were as avid enthusiasts about nurturing their Christian spirituality as today’s health and fitness enthusiasts are about their activities.  Hours spent daily at gyms and exercise machines, extreme and meticulous preparation of meals and supplements… these folks believe in the importance of what they are doing and their actions show it.  Such a charge could not be made of many who fill our churches on Sundays to offer a mere hour or so a week for the development of what is, eternally, the most important part of their lives!

What does any of this have to do with divorce?  I think it has to do with every crisis we face in life.  Those stressful moments are experiences that can compel us to actively and aggressively pursue the strength of God, or, for many become the cause of turning away from any spiritual discipline at all.  In addition, handling well the crises of life spiritually is often determined by how well prepared one is prior to the arrival of the crisis.  Those who in the midst of a crisis have no inner relationship with God upon which to draw may find themselves cast upon the rocky shores and shipwrecked.

Whatever your station in life at this time, I invite you….no I strongly encourage you to do some introspection and consider how well you are doing at developing and caring for those deepest parts of you called your spirit or soul.  Does your life’s activities reflect a kind of priority on you relationship with God that will stand the tests not only of time, but also of eternity.  Jesus had a harsh warning for those whose priorities were misaligned and become neglectful of the nuture of their spiritual relationship with God.  He told a story about a man who was obsessed with gathering wealth and seeking security in life, and the story ends with God speaking to the man the following words:

You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?---Luke 12:20 (NASB)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grandparents and Divorce


A movie I really enjoy is the movie “Parenthood” with Steve Martin and Jason Robards.  In case you didn’t see it, there are lots of twists and turns as the movie depicts multigenerational family life, with plenty of family disputes, dysfunctions and difficulties.  The different family members have different issues, and the story centers around Martin’s character as he struggles to be a good dad, and wrestles with the decisions that involves.  Robards portrays Martin’s dad, who is also struggling with issues that center around his grown children, one son in particular.  In one scene, as Robards expresses the struggle, the comment he makes to Steve Martin as he reflects on the difficulties he is having with his youngest son, is that the most difficult thing about being a parent is (in -paraphrase) “that is never ends.  Never.   It just keeps on going.”  I suspect those individuals wrestling with their child’s divorce can relate to such a statement.

Last blog I discussed the impact a child’s divorce has on parents, and the various roles the parent might play as they seek to help their child through a difficult time.  I want to go one step further tonight, and make some suggestions in relation to the grandchildren whose lives are also caught up in the turmoil.

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a very special and unique one.  Grandchildren may often feel able to discuss their struggles in the divorce that they do not feel comfortable with parents -  with a grandparent.  While this can become a valuable ministry opportunity for the grandparent - it is also a very heart-wrenching one.   The child may describe things in one or both home that leaves their grandparents speechless, and heartbroken.  While often unable to change the child’s situation, providing the child an outlet to vent can be invaluable in helping the child cope…if you are willing to provide a listening ear and comforting hug.  

These conversations can be very tricky.  If the child shares things about your child’s ex that trouble you….such as details about a new lover that has moved in, or how the values in that home no longer match the values they had been taught previously in their intact home.  Their lives may have become more hectic, more deprived, more uncertain.  The grandchildren may also bring up struggles they are having with your child during this transition time, struggles that may be very difficult to hear.  On occasion, there may be a struggle mentioned that you could address effectively with your child, but more often than not, you can only listen to the grandchildren’s struggles.  And cry with them.  And encourage them.  And hug them.  And serve as an important source of stability in the midst of their discombobulated lives.   

You will find there are times when you have to bite your tongue.  You will find there are other times you can offer a bit of perspective, or some wise advice.  You can not only pray for your grandchildren, you can pray with them.  And, when appropriate, you may be able to help your child understand the struggles of their children just a little better, and sometimes even make suggestions that can help guide your child toward effective parenting.  

“It never ends,” is the line from Parenthood, but that can be a good thing, because not only do you carry the heartache and the hardship, but you also have the opportunity to be the positive, supportive influence for your children and grandchildren when they most need someone.  It is a privilege that only grandparents have in that unique relationship you have with your grandchildren.  

Use that privilege wisely, in a godly and exemplary fashion.  Not only your children, but also your grandchildren need you, perhaps now more than ever.  Let me also remind you that God notices, God listens to your heart cry, and God will honor you for your commitment and ministry to children in need.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When Your Adult Children Divorce..What Now?

Many years ago, I had a couple of parishioners who had been married for many years ask if they could visit with me.  As we did, they shared with me their heartache over the divorce of their daughter from her husband.  The dad said to me, “I think it would be easier to be getting divorced myself than to have to watch her go through a divorce.”  I don’t know whether that statement is actually true or not, but it is pretty profound, wouldn’t you say?

I visited again today with another friend who is part of a couple with whom I have shared support as their child has been divorced in recent years, and they deal with the fallout.  As we talked, I was reminded again of how many ripples extend out in so many ways when a couple chooses to end their marriage, especially when there are children involved.  

Grandparents are especially vulnerable.  

Suddenly, the opportunities for grandparents to be able to freely spend time with their grandchildren are now curtailed, as the opportunities are now restricted according to the various schedules in which the children now live.  And that is assuming that both of the divorced parties are abiding by the court agreement.  However, very often that only happens in an ideal world.  

Not all of the difficulties for a parent of the divorcing center around the grandchildren, however.  As I visited with my friend, I heard words of struggle, uncertainty, powerlessness and concern.  Parents of those divorcing wonder what things they can say and help that would be helpful, and what things would be detrimental, all the time worried over watching their child on an emotional rollercoaster which sometimes spirals into depression and fear. 

When your child is lonely, do you call, do you not call?  

Do you encourage him or her to get out and start seeing someone, or do you encourage him or her to wait?  

At what point does it go from healthy parenting to intrusiveness?  

How much help for the child is actually helpful, and how much do you withhold to allow your child to wrestle with the difficult issues for themselves?

The grandparent I was visiting with also expressed the impact the divorce had on family dynamics in general.  Relationships at family gatherings had taken on a degree of awkwardness, planning for vacations or holidays was now tied to the whims of the ex-spouse, and the need for my friends to find way to help undergird the parenting their child attempts to do in difficult circumstances.

I was not the bearer of good news to my friend, when I expressed that the complications can be almost never ending.  We didn’t even touch on what things may one day be like when grandchildren graduate and anyone tries to plan graduation parties, or when a wedding rolls around and one of the divorced individuals chooses to make things difficult.  Step-parents, or even new boyfriend/girlfriends that enter the picture add another dynamic, especially if they have children of their own already.  The ripples just go on and on.  And so often others do not understand.  Sometimes a divorced person’s family members do not understand, and think the two ex’s should be able to just be friends, get along, and not be bothered when the other is around.  Sometimes that is the case, but in my experience, it is a pretty rare couple that manages that kind of relationship.  For the rest of the people I know, each intrusion of the ex into one’s life stirs up old emotions and struggles, and unnecessarily complicates the already difficult aftermath of divorce.

What I did share with my friend is that as a parent of a divorcing/divorced child, my friend has now entered the subculture of parents who have experienced the same thing.  I shared that I have known a number of people in the same situation, who have expressed the same frustrations, the same hurts, the same uncertainties about how to proceed.  I also suggested that if they keep their eyes open, around them they will find others who are struggling in the same kind of hardship, and my friend might find a whole new ministry by offering support and encouragement that only can come from someone who has “been there.”  

Those people who think they will file for divorce and that will solve all their problems are sadly deluded.  As someone said to me many years ago, “divorce creates more problems than it solves.”  And I suspect very few people entering divorce stop to think about the effects that will ripple out to those they love, whether it be friends, grandparents or other family members, or even their own children.  

All of which, I suspect, is just one more reason that God says in Malachi that he hates divorce.  I do, too.  Necessary though it sometimes is, it is certainly not a wonderful fix-all remedy for a troubled marriage!

Hey, maybe YOU know someone whose child is in the midst of a divorce.  Don’t assume it is an easy thing for that parent…reach out to them, and let them know you care.  You might be surprised how much it will mean to them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

God is the Same!


I just came inside from planting a clematis and setting up a trellis for it, after walking by a little rose garden with 8 or 9 bushes leafing out in celebration of spring.  All of those plants once belonged to my father, who passed away a few years ago.  

Many of you are aware that my wife and I are in the process of a very long, drawn out move from one town to another.  Those of you who know me, already know that I am a sap.  

Movies, songs, mementoes and photographs are just a few of the things that transport me in time, and bring back treasured memories.  And I have learned that those treasure memories that helped shape who I am, travel with me wherever I go and whatever I experience as life changes and moves.  

Those leafing plants are part of the connections for me during this time of transition as I move forward into this next chapter God has for my life.  Every shift that takes place in life, always brings something new that creates new memories, friendships and treasures that are added to what God has already gifted to me, creating and enriching new things in my life. 

Transitions are always like that.  They are often not easy.  It is not an easy thing to pick up roots and move from one location, leaving behind church, friends, family and familiar sights to start afresh in another.  But in the moves I have made over the years, I have learned that even though there are things left behind, there are new friends, new churches, new favorite restaurants, new sights, a plethora of experiences to come that cannot be experienced without stepping away from what was.  So while a time of transition (whether a forced transition or one made by choice) can be challenging, it is also a time of promise.

You may be in life transition yourself.  Divorce is certainly one of those experiences, often a very difficult transition, but so is moving, job change, empty nest, and lots of other life experiences.  Each time, one goes through the process of figuring out what to let go of, and what can and should be brought along.  Perhaps the most important things to take with you are the things that cannot be taken away:  your character, your faith, the lessons you have learned, the memories you cherish, the friendships you have developed.

I first learned this lesson from an elderly woman who resided in a nursing home for whom I was the assigned deacon to take communion to her month by month.  She had only recently moved to the facility, and it was apparently not her choice to have done so.  She struggled with being in the new location, she missed her house, and longed for something familiar in her life.  One day when I met with her, she pointed to a simple chest of drawers and explained that her children had brought it from her house for her, and how pleased she was that they had. She then said something I have never forgotten:  “You know, they can take away my things, but they can’t take my memories, and I have some wonderful memories.”  

God is the same, wherever you reside.  

Your memories remain your memories in any location.  

Your character, your essence, the core of who you are is not dependent on where you live, but on choices you make and experiences you have had, and especially on how you allow God to use those things to shape you into his image.  

In transition?  

That is how life is for all of us.  A friend of mine used to say that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!  I encourage you to make your transitions with faith, hope and expectancy, embracing the positive things ahead with all the things you have become through the things that have brought you to this point already.  God awaits us whenever we venture into those new chapters of life.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Resurrection Living


I figure it wasn’t very much fun to be one of Jesus’ disciples from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.  They had been very excited about what they had discovered when they met Jesus, and as they followed him, sharing in the teachings and miracles of the Messiah.  It was like a dream come true.  It must have felt like everything they had hoped for in life and beyond was the experience of their daily lives.  

But then, when they saw Jesus crucified and buried, their world turned upside down as their dream come true turned into a nightmare come true.   Not knowing where to turn, they spent their time hiding in fear, or returning to their simple lives as fishermen.  

Hopeless.  Dark days of isolation and sorrow.

Then came resurrection Sunday.  

Friday was not the end of the story, however.  

Though they experienced the depths of sorrow and despair, God didn’t leave them there.  Three days later, there was exultation beyond their wildest imagination.  This is the story of hope, the story of life, God style.

Resurrection living applies to many areas of our lives, where we need God’s light to shine into the darkness of our struggles and experiences to bring new hope, fresh starts, second chances and new opportunities.  Whether it is  second opportunity after a broken marriage, a fresh start breaking free of addictions, or simply moving to new dreams while leaving despair behind, God specializes in resurrecting the dead places of our lives.

Simple message today:  offer God those areas of your life that could stand to be given new life, then watch him work.  You will be as amazed as the disciples were, come Easter morning.

P.S.  Nola and I went to watch the movie, “The Case for Christ” yesterday in preparation for Easter.  It’s worth the time and money…I encourage you to make plans to go yourself…and invite a friend!  Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Where was God this morning?


This morning, Palm Sunday morning, as Coptic Christians were celebrating and remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, bombs went off at their churches and killed dozens of worshippers, and wounded scores.  ISIS was quick to claim responsibility.  

My heart goes out to those brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe in their grief during this most special time of the year for those of the Christian faith.  

A few years ago I got to go on a trip to tour sites in Jordan, Israel and Egypt.  While we were in Egypt, we were hosted by a guide who was a Coptic Christian.  She was a very intelligent woman, knowledgeable about the history of her nation and all the sites we went to see.  Every time I read a headline about the Copts, I always think of her, and how gracious she was to us on our tour.

It wasn’t that long ago a Coptic Church in Cairo was bombed by the radical Islamic terrorists.  I remember hearing later that after that happened, the next time the church gathered to worship, more tolerant Muslims gathered in front of the church to protect it and to show in a tangible way that not all Muslims are like those terrorists.  

I have known of folks who have wondered, though, why God would allow things like that to happen to people who worship him, why he doesn’t prevent these things from happening.  

It is a good question, and this is a good time to ask it.

Today, in our worship services, we focused on the fact that when Jesus headed into Jerusalem on the Triumphal Entry, he went in knowing that he was soon to be tortured and killed, and yet he went.  He went because he knew that God had a purpose that was more important than keeping Jesus safe from physical harm--the winning forgiveness and salvation for millions who would believe.  First Peter 2:21-23 addresses this and the relevance it has for those of us who struggle:

 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

It is interesting that this passage makes the assumption that those who follow him will also suffer, and that Jesus’ experiences of Holy Week serve as guides for how we are to face tough times.  I have heard reports in the past that the Coptic Christians who have suffered so much have actually lived by the instructions in this passage, and that their response to suffering has had a great impact on those who have observed them, even causing some of them to come to Christ to follow the God who helps people in suffering such as this.

God doesn’t always explain why he allows people to suffer, and not even those who are striving to follow him in life.  Nor is he obligated to do so.  But over and again the scriptures make clear that God DOES have purpose when he allows tragedy into the lives of believers, and that he will work it into something meaningful and use it in a way that brings glory to him.  

Perhaps you are struggling today as well.  Maybe you didn’t lose a loved one in a bombing, but there are lots of ways people struggle:  health concerns, emotional stress, job loss, the list is endless.  Maybe you feel the betrayal of a spouse who has filed for divorce, as Jesus felt the betrayal of Judas and of the crowd who would later shout for him to be crucified.  He understands what it is like to be betrayed.  And he left you an example of how to cope with it.  

Where was God this morning in Egypt?  

He was weeping beside those who lost loved ones in the bombing, and was collecting every tear they shed as a precious treasure.  

He was holding the survivors close, waiting for them to turn to him for comfort and hope.

He was speaking to the hearts of the ISIS leaders, warning them that the path they are on is not the way of God.  

He was reaching out to the hearts of those who are observing the Coptic Christians in their grief, showing them that there is a faith that can sustain even in the darkest of days.

At the same time, I also heard today that Christians were able to freely gather and worship today near Mosul, after years of oppression that kept them from doing so.  

God is still alive, God is still moving.  

I invite you to join me in prayer for the families of the victims there in Egypt, and also for their witness in this tragic time.  I invite you to join me in praying that God will help them through the rest of their Holy Week remembrance, and be especially near to them on Easter.   And, though I did not write about them, let’s also be in prayer for all those victimized with the poisonous attacks in Syria.  The world is just as troubled today as it was when Jesus walked the earth.  Thank God, though, that he has done something about it:  he sent a Savior who will one day return as judge, at which time he will make all things right.  At that time, we will no longer ask why; instead, we will marvel at the wisdom of God in allowing things we would never have imagined could be turned for good.