Wednesday, August 30, 2017
The hurricane in Texas, and now Louisiana, has wreaked havoc with torrential, recordbreaking rains, out of control flooding, dramatic rescues and tragic deaths. I especially feel for those individuals who have already fled their homes years ago when Katrina’s devastation was upon them and resettled in Houston as a “safer place,” only to be reliving the nightmare now. Sadly, these kinds of natural disasters occur around the world in a variety of ways year after year, and suffering is not unique to Harvey’s victims.
In the midst of it, Joel Osteen has come under attack from lots of directions with the charge that when asked to open his church as a shelter for those needing refuge, the request is said to have been denied. I have read a portion of a statement officially issued by the church that indicates they have been purchasing and placing mattresses in the building, and that they plan to open it as a refuge once the other shelters are full.
I find that statement rather interesting, in that the church does not see the need to be among the first to respond to those in need and suffering, but as a refuge of last resort. I don’t have direct knowledge of any of the charges and controversy, just the bits and pieces I have picked up here and there, but it doesn’t sound good, does it?
It certainly does not sound like the way Jesus responded to those in need, nor how teaches his followers to respond…but I also acknowledge that there could be more to the story than I know. In fact, I have read of an interview that he gave indicating that there is another side to it all, and that they have been working with the city since the beginning. I don’t intend to jump in and rush to judgment with limited information (which seems to happen a LOT on the internet, it seems to me).Since that is not the bandwagon I plan to jump on with this blog, I will leave that investigation to others, while I pursue some lessons that could be relevant for all of us instead. Don’t misunderstand and assume that it means I approve of the actions that have been claimed against him…I am simply choosing to address a different concern.
I want to focus on a different aspect of this whole discussion.
Have you noticed how much attention Osteen is getting from the secular media and community is all of this? News sources that would never give the time of day to the various ministries his church does or the messages Osteen brings on a regular basis (and I’m not saying I agree with everything the man teaches…frankly, I don’t spend the time on his ministry to even find out). But now, all of a sudden, he is the major focus of attention by people from every walk of life! Why?
I think there are several reasons. First, there are people around who despise anything Christian, and like vultures, just wait, watching for any error on the part of any Christian leader so that they can swoop and a pronounce judgment, point out hypocrisy and declare a foul. These individuals believe that finding fault with fallible Christian people somehow disproves the validity of the Christian faith.
That, of course, actually demonstrates how little they really understand of the teachings of the Christian faith, because the very core teaching of Christianity is that we are fallible, desperately in need of forgiveness and grace, which is why Jesus died on the cross in the first place. Committing one’s life to Christ doesn’t mean we no longer fail and make poor choices, it means we are trying to learn a better way, and that we acknowledge our failings and need for forgiveness.
This vulture type mentality exists not only on a national level, but on a local level as well. There are individuals in every community who delight in pointing out the faults of the church and seek to undermine its ministries. There are, sadly, also individuals in every congregation who think their calling is to find fault with their pastors and church leaders, and spend their time watching and waiting, when they would better be served by spending some time before a mirror, taking careful stock of their own shortcomings.
The second thing I want to point out is the underlying assumption that the church and Christians are SUPPOSED to be helping those in need.
Despite all the maligning Christians have experienced in our secular and often hostile culture in recent years, the message has still gotten through that the church is a place (at least in theory) where people in need can find help and individuals who care. I have experienced this personally as a pastor, when time and time again, individuals in a community who never step foot inside a church for worship, do not hesitate to turn to the church when they need help with utilities or food; the assumption is that Christians are people who care about the needs of others.
So when people in your church get discouraged because they think the message isn’t getting through, consider that more may be getting through than you realize.
One doesn’t hear the media raising any stink about whether scientologists, Mormons or Muslims are doing anything to help down in Texas. It is Christians who have historically been known as individuals who care about and seek to minister to those in need. Perhaps the greatest example in recent years would have been Mother Teresa caring for the lowest of the low in Calcutta. It is the witness of Christians around the globe and throughout history. Hospitals and colleges exist because Christians cared about the sick and the illiterate, not just their own people. I visited a poverty stricken country some years ago with a missionary friend of mine, and as we drove, motorcycled and then finally hiked back into the back areas of the country, my friend commented that nobody else cares about these people, that even their own government doesn’t go back to help them. Once there, I saw schools being built, nutrition and job skills being taught, and new Christians seeking to learn what it means to follow Jesus in their context.
The final, and main point I want to raise is this: people are watching.
If you claim to be a Christian, whether you realize it or not, people are observing your life to see if what you say you believe matches up with how you live your life. And, as Joel Osteen and his church in Texas are rapidly discovering, actions (or inaction) speaks far louder than words. Our changed lives, the good deeds are the outward evidence and manifestation of the work God has done within our hearts. If they are non-existent, or counter to the way Jesus lived and taught, then that should serve as a warning sign causing us to examine whether or not we really have committed our lives to Christ, and what it means to you that you have done so. But if your life is reflecting well the character of Christ, you are silently teaching people what it means to be a Christian, and when the day comes they need help, or want to know more, they will know that they can turn to you because your faith is genuine. Perhaps that is the real reason for the outcry against Osteen and his church: people are searching for faith that is genuine, and are disenchanted by the disappointment of times when the evidence of individual lives says otherwise.
So if it was you the media was scrutinizing and judging, what would be their declaration based on your life?
Remember that old saying: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Are you first on the scene to help people in need, or have you become a refuge of last resort, too?
In a day of mixed messages, the world is hungry for genuine, meaningful, life-changing, humble faith. I hope they can find it in YOU! (and me!!)
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Living between two towns while making a long distance move has been difficult, trying, frustrating and sometimes very tedious. Half of our possessions are in one town, the other half in another, and for months, the same was true of the two of us. Now that Nola and I are together in our new town, we keep the roads between busy with our share of travels, finishing up home projects, packing, and bringing items with us as we wait for the completion of the remodeling project in our new home, and in preparation for putting our other home on the market. One day, while we were at the new home, the one we are moving from was burglarized and we had some items stolen, including a few family heirlooms.
It appears to me that the individuals were drug users, looking for quick cash or medicines they could use, based on the kinds of things they took, the areas they searched and the things they left behind. I suspect they were very disappointed thieves, since much of the kind of things of interest to them were no longer there--prescriptions, coins or cash, jewelry, precious metal type things…you get the idea.
My wife and I were appalled and troubled by the meticulous way the thieves had gone through so much of the things in the house, opening boxes packed for moving and leaving the contents strewn on the floor, open drawers and doors with the contents spilled out around, and general evidence of hours spent rummaging through things. They did get away with some things of value, but not nearly what I suspect they were hoping to find.
In the midst of our working on inventory for police and insurance, I mentioned to my wife that though this was clearly a troubling event, I did not experience it to be the same degree of trauma as divorce.
Because the individuals, I assume strangers, doing this were troubled folks with an indifferent disregard for others people in their self-serving search for cash for drugs (assuming I am correct). In contrast, the devastation of divorce was the betrayal by someone known, once loved and trusted, and the loss was not merely material goods, but the dreams and hopes for future plans, as well as an intact home and marriage, along with a dozen other intangible things that gnawed at my soul through that awful experience. (I realize that for some of my readers, their need to get out of an abusive marriage will mean that their experience of divorce is far different.)
Well, I don’t want to belabor it all, but decided I would like to share with you, my readers, something I shared with my congregation at church today. As I was wandering around the house, taking photographs, reboxing items and searching through piles, I found my mind wandering to a story I recalled about an earlier believer who had once been robbed. I thought it was Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonites, but his story was about when some people were destroying his house. Since I did not have internet at the old home, a friend searched for me, and found the story and quote much as I remembered it, but that it was Matthew Henry instead. My friend sent it to me in the following format:
Many years ago, Matthew Henry, a well-known Bible scholar, was once robbed of his wallet. Knowing that it was his duty to give thanks in everything, he meditated on this incident and recorded in his diary the following:
Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
English Non-conformist Bible commentator
English Non-conformist Bible commentator
While working on the house, I found myself thinking about other things to be thankful for, most of which I shared this morning in worship. I thought you might find it helpful in some way if I shared those thoughts with you as well.
I am thankful that I had friends and relatives near the old house who saw the damage and were able to help secure the house until I got there.
I am thankful that it did not happen during one of the times my wife was at the house by herself.
I am thankful that neither of us suffered any physical harm.
I am thankful that, although the house was ransacked and rummaged, it was not destructively vandalized.
I am thankful that I have never been in a situation where I felt so desperate that I would consider committing such a crime myself.
I am thankful that I have never experienced the slavery of drugs that would turn a person into such a desperate, self-centered and thoughtless person.
Having just helped serve a breakfast at a nearby homeless shelter, I am thankful that I even have a house and possession that COULD be vandalized or stolen, for many do not.
I am thankful that, although some meaningful things were taken, some of the more sentimental items I have (which are virtually worthless to anyone but me) were not taken or harmed.
I am thankful that I live in a place and time where there is insurance available against such losses, so that the financial loss is mainly in the form of the inevitable deductibles (though, I suppose, some things will be overlooked as we try to discern what was taken).
And I also prayed for the individuals who took the items, because as I wandered around, I saw many scriptures posted around, many symbols of faith, many book titles that beckon toward God, including a communion poster that says, “Jesus of Nazareth requests your presence at a supper to be given in his honor,” which was near the window through which they entered the house. Who knows whether one of those messages that they encountered over and again will be the very instrument that one day works into their hearts and souls to lead them to repentance and a personal relationship with Christ, resulting in their acceptance into heaven when they die.
As I recall learning during my divorce, some things in life are more important than others, and really, the things we surround ourselves with are really “just stuff,” not the essence of what matters in life.
Finally, I would especially add, as I watch the news in the last few days, I find myself having much to be thankful for when I see the devastation so many in Texas are experience from the fury of Hurricane Harvey. Please join me in prayer for all of Texas, the victims and those that are suffering losses in this time. In comparison, my wife and I are richly blessed, and have little to complain about.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
So people are all excited around here, because tomorrow is the date of a total eclipse of the sun. It’s supposed to happen around noon, and is said to be a pretty rare phenomenon, because the eclipse will be seen from one side of the United States to the other.
I remember watching a significant solar eclipse back when, making a little hole in some cardboard to be able to view it appropriately. Now they are selling or giving away special glasses. I haven’t decided about my own participation yet, but the image of an eclipse got me to thinking.
There are ways in which the eclipse is useful as a parallel to the experience of divorce.
Just as one can see the gradual darkening of the sun from one edge to the other, so in divorce, one experiences darkness encroaching upon the brightness that was marital love, until darkness is all that is left and there seems to be no light shining at all. For most divorcing folks, the darkest days of divorce come through the court battles and the lonely times in the aftermath. During that time, one wonders whether the sun will ever shine again. But then, gradually, there come rays of hope, the darkness begins to fade and one moves into a new chapter of life as the sun starts shining again and life resumes with fresh brightness on the other side.
This may seem a rather lame comparison, but if you are the one who is in the darkest `moments, it can be some encouragement to know there is hope of the sun shining again and life moving forward into something new and fresh. The awareness that the time of pain, loss and loneliness is only temporary makes the experience more manageable, more endurable, and a little less threatening.
When one experiences even the tiniest ray of hope in the midst of those dark days, it becomes a symbol of more to come, or the promise that brighter days are on their way. That is a big deal, when one is in the midst of despair, and has a hard time believing that things will ever get better.
Which brings me to you, my reader. Perhaps you are the one in the eclipse of divorce, and need to be encouraged to remember that, just as the sunshine will return tomorrow, life’s sun will come again to your life when these darks days pass. If, on the other hand, you are a person whose life is not caught up in divorce, I encourage you to realize that YOU could be one of the rays of hope for someone struggling in the dark days of divorce. A kind word. A simple greeting card. An encouraging phone call. An invitation to dinner or night out at the movies. Maybe even a simple hug accompanied by the promise of prayer. Those first rays of light don’t have to be anything spectacular. Just enough to foretell better days ahead.
All around us are people whose lives are stuck in one kind of an eclipse or another. It is a great thing to get to be the one who brings a bit of sunlight into a despairing heart. Look for your opportunity this week, the week of eclipse!
Sunday, August 13, 2017
How are you at handling uncertainty? Uncertainty, and learning how to handle it, are important parts of our lives. Whether or not you handle it well is something you will discover about yourself when in the process of divorce if you didn’t know it beforehand.
Life is filled with uncertainty; we live with it every day, although we don’t always acknowledge the fact. In divorce, uncertainty is very much thrust in your face.
You may face uncertainty regarding how the court will rule time and time again.
You may face uncertainty as to what all will need to change in your lifestyle as a result of the divorce.
You may face uncertainty about how you will manage to survive financially on your own.
You may face uncertainty about how your children, your family, or your friends will react, understand and relate to you and your situation in the future.
You may face uncertainty about who will keep the house, and whether, if it is you, whether you will be able to keep it for long.
You may face uncertainty about whether you are making the right choices, time and time again.
You may face uncertainty about how you will like living alone and starting all over.
But then again, life always has uncertainties, divorce or not. Most of us live with an illusion of certainty, which probably keeps us from going insane, but in our more sobering moments, we realize the uncertainty of our world. Though we act like we are certain of things, there are any number of which we are actually not as certain as we think. We expect we will still have a job when we go to work, but buildings burn unexpectedly, economies fluctuate, companies buy out other companies and change personnel…things just happen. We go to bed at night expecting to get up the next morning to another day, but many people wake up to a day in which everything suddenly changes: a heart attack leaves them hospitalized or paralyzed, a car accident ends a life or causes significant physical injuries, a tornado, hurricane, mudslide or sinkhole collapses homes.
I used to live in a town whose local corporate memory was how the rail workers chose to go on strike, just before the stock market crash of 1929, and the town never really recovered. We have all heard of Enron and the other stories where retirement funds people had counted on were drained by greedy and self-centered individuals, leaving people without the security net they had expected in their old age. Governments are toppled, terrorists and random criminal acts occur, nations rise and fall; life IS uncertain.
How do you cope with that uncertainty? Some of us build artificial assurances, insulating ourselves from the realities of life, denying the fragility of it all, until we are forced to face all the uncertainty that really exists. Others fight against uncertainty, putting in as many safeguards as they can with backup plans, insurance, security systems, dietary and preventive medical choices…all sorts of ways we construct our “castles” of certainty, denying that even the best of them are not as certain as we think.
Is there anything certain? Well, I guess that depends. Some say the only things certain are death and taxes. I would agree that death is a certain thing…unless, of course, you happen to be living when Jesus returns. Taxes…well, you can decide on that one! But there are other certainties, though they are certain to us only through faith.
Although, if you think about it, all the other things we choose to accept as certain in our lives…health, financial stability, court justice, relationships..they all require faith as well.
It is just that in those cases, our faith is in something unworthy of our complete trust…health fails, people betray us, courts disappoint us, and I suspect there were those in the Confederate States during the Civil War who were confident in their amassed wealth of Confederate dollars.
The promises of God, however, are worthy of trusting as certain, because they are guaranteed by the one Being in all the universe who never changes, never lies, never fails.
In the uncertainties of life, and in the extreme sense of uncertainty that comes during divorce, I encourage you to discover the certainty that exists through faith with God. Certainty of such promises as “God works all things together for good for those who love him,” or when God promises that he “will never fail you nor forsake you,” or when God says that “when you pass through the waters I will be with you…when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,” or “whoever believes in him shall never be put to shame,” along with all the promises of God’s provision for our eternal security with him beyond this life.
When facing the uncertainties of divorce, the fears of the future, the hurt of the losses, the worries about how you will make it, I encourage you to trust that God has not lost control, that God will help you when you cry out to him, that as you continue to love and seek him, God will work even the worst of our experiences into something good. When you are surrounded and overwhelmed with uncertainty, know that you can be certain of the God who loves you and will work on your behalf. As you develop and grow in that certainty of God, it is enough to make all the other uncertainties fade to insignificance.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
In a recent correspondence, I was asked a question that I know many of us have struggled with, and not only in the context of divorce, though that was the context of our discussion. The question was one the writer struggled with in the midst of a difficult divorce, since both parties are confessing Christians. The question (in my edited wording) was: Since we are both Christian, in the hassles of the divorce, sometimes I just wonder whose side is God on?
It is certainly a difficult, and confusing thing, to be in the process of divorce from someone whose belief system also is one that speaks of seeking God’s will, honoring his commands, including the belief in God’s ordained plan for the covenant of marriage.
Perhaps each partner is pursuing what they believe God is leading him or her to do. And yet, in the course of the twisted process called divorce, they find themselves at odds with one another over multiple choices of the right course of action. When one is convinced that he or she is sincerely doing their best to do what is right, that individual longs for vindication for pursuing what is believed to be the right thing...and gets very discouraged when the courts rule against them, leaving one to wonder what ever became of justice. And the old biblical question arises, “why do the wicked prosper?” Especially when the partner asking the question knows he or she has been honest in their disclosures and statements while the ex has been hiding assets and information.
Whose side is God on?
As I said at the beginning, the question has been asked in many contexts over the years. Think of the churches that have split over various issues, with each side convinced they are following the correct leading and teaching of the Lord. Whose side is God on in those situations? Wars, politics, social debates…the examples go on and on.
My response? Well, some of the kinds of things I suggested are that God is always on the side of each of us…that is, God is FOR us, not against us. He desires the best for each of us, the best as he knows what is actually truly best. He desires that we can be freed from the things that hold us back and keep us from being all that he designed us to become. He longs for us to grow in righteousness, and reflect more fully the image of God in our lives. So even in the midst of a divorce, there is a sense in which God is on the side of each of us, that his desire is for us to be part of his family for ever and ever. It is Satan who is the one who is against us.
That being said, however, God does not choose to force us to respond to him as he desires. He beckons, he nudges, he leads…but our decisions are also involved in the process. While he is on our side, that is not the same as saying that God is on our side of a dispute between individuals. When it comes to divorce, I suspect that God would be on the side of reconciliation, repentance, forgiveness, genuine godly and humble love, and marriage that is “till death do us part”…but I am not convinced that it would be for a one sided reconciliation where the abused ignores the abuse and re-enters a marriage that is no marriage at all, or to re-enter a marriage in which one partner is committed to the marriage while the other is out breaking the vows night after night in adulterous relationships.
God is on the side of genuine committed and loving marriages, and his desire would be that our marriages would be moving to greater and greater depths of that kind of relationship.
In the course of the disputes of a divorce, whose side is God on? I think it should also be added that God is on the side of truth, the side of righteousness, the side of love, the side of forgiveness, the side of humility. In other words, God is always on the side of godly characteristics. And sometimes, in the proceedings, the choices we make reflect those characteristics, and God would be pleased with those choices…whether or not they result in success in the courtroom.
Probably the most important answer to this question would be to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln. The Civil War in the United States had Christian people on both sides, each fighting tooth and nail for what they believed was right, and praying to the same God for victory. When asked whose side God was on, Abraham’s reply was one that could also be easily applied to the question I was asked in the context of divorce-
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.
So, as much as we may desire that God is on our side against the perceived injustices and evils that pile up against us, the more important issue is that which Lincoln refers to:
as you make the choices you make, do you choose to be on God’s side?
Sunday, August 6, 2017
THE POWER OF STORIES
I had a phone call the other day from the publisher. More specifically, from the woman who works with the publicity department at the publisher. We chatted about a lot of things. During part of the conversation, we talked about various stories related to my books. As a result, I am working on gathering some of the stories together (and if you have a good one you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it--email or even post a comment to the blog or facebook page). I received one via email the other day, and though I had heard about it before, I learned even more and was touched by what I read. So I decided to share it with you here (with permission), and also some other favorite stories I have heard. Since I haven’t had a chance to clear the use of names, I am only going to identify the one that was emailed. Enjoy the stories. Like and share the page. And again, pass along any related stories you have. First, the one I received via email;
“In January of 2014 I was visiting with a friend and she told me that Richard had finally gotten his devotional books on divorce published. At that time I was going to church with a young lady who was going thru a divorce and was mother of a 6 month old little girl. I called Richard and asked if I could get a set of the books for Jenny. He offered to sign them and write a little note of encouragement to Jenny. After receiving the books, I gave them to her one Sunday morning making sure she knew that Richard had signed them. She didn’t seem especially thrilled, but I thought at least I tried. Two weeks later Jenny shared with me that so many people had given her books and advice that she really didn’t want to read more books about divorce. But since Richard had gone to all the trouble to sign them, she decided she should at least look through them. After reading his “Letter to my Readers”, Jenny was hooked. She said she could not believe how much these books were helping. Every devotion seemed to touch on just what she needed for the day. She threw all her other books away. Jenny has just completed a second degree program and will begin teaching this fall. Seasons of Divorce has seen her through many other seasons of her life.”
--Margaret Grubb, retired church secretary
One of my favorite stories was from a woman I received another contact from a woman about the same time, who told me that she and her husband were getting divorce, and they each began reading Volume 1 of Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, and as they worked their way through it, they decided they wanted to get back together and make their marriage work instead. I was floored when I heard that…God was using the books in ways I hadn’t even imagined.
Another individual told me that the best thing for him as he read the books, was that he came to realize that he was not alone nor weird in the various feelings he was having, and that, alone, brought him comfort. Another individual had felt very isolated and as an outcast from both her church and her family. The book provided her some of the stability she was seeking, and just enough encouragement to help her get through each day during the dark times, until she was able to move on. Over the course of several years, her story unfolded through not only her readings and responding to the book, but via personal support as we emailed back and forth.
A pastor friend bought several copies, and then used them as a study guide for his local ministerial association. Since none of them had been divorced, but they all had parishioners struggling with the experience, he decided this would be a helpful window into the world of the divorced, as well as a tool they all could use in ministry. While they were in the midst of the process, a new pastor who had been divorced moved to town and joined the group. That pastor told the group, “This is too real!”
Maybe you have stories you can share with me as well. Or maybe you need to go about helping create such a story by sharing my books as a resource for a friend or pastor you know. If it would help to have the books signed, as I did for Margaret’s friend Jenny, feel free to contact me to make that happen. When the first book was coming out, someone at the publisher’s asked me what my dream was for the book. I replied that my main hope was that someday I would have a stack of letters and emails describing how my writings have helped others. It has been profoundly touching to watch as that dream has been coming true.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
THE POWER OF PRAYER
Our lives continue to be in transition, which has had the impact on the frequency of my blog postings that some of you may have noticed. We are making progress, and I hope sometime soon to be able to again get back on schedule with them. In any case, here is one for tonight.
Never underestimate the power of prayer. Last week I completed a set of my “Jacob’s Well Workshops” at the church I pastor, designed to help church folks better understand how to be more effective in helping those caught in the throes of divorce. During the last session, I included a number of specific actions that individuals can take to reach out and help individuals in divorce.
One of the categories I discussed included prayer support, and I thought I would share with you for tonight’s blog some of the specific tips you could use. These are only a few items from the workshop, but I thought these are ones that can be very important.
PRAYER---prayer is one of the biggest gifts you can give, and you can pray for them in very meaningful ways. Here are some possibilities:
- Ask them what time of day is most difficult for them, and then let them know you will be praying for them at that time each day…then do it.
- Ask them for specific prayer requests, and then create an environment of trust so they can freely share.
- Ask them to let you know when court and/or mediation times are approaching, so that you can pray WITH them prior to the event, and for them DURING the event. In some cases, you may even want to offer to attend court with them so that they are not alone in those troubling “halls of justice.”
- When you do this, and maybe anytime you are on the phone with them, take a second to pray for them aloud on the phone as you close the call. It doesn’t have to be fancy, even something as simple as, “God, please help my dear friend in this time,” can be very meaningful.
- You may also want to help them turn their own focus to God when you visit with them and they share their burdens and fears. Ask the simple question, “What do you think God might be trying to do in your life at this time? What do you think he is trying to teach you?” Because God will be working in ways they may not be able to see. Then pray with them that God will reveal to them the things he is doing in their lives, even in the times of hardship and stress.
These may not seem to be such a big deal when you read them, but to be on the receiving end of these prayers when in the midst of divorce can be very meaningful. I encourage you to bless someone in this way soon.