Suffering In Community

Have you ever had a time where from the outside you might have looked entirely out of your element but you felt like you were right where you were supposed to be? I once had the opportunity to speak to a group of retirees about the importance of suffering with others. At the age of 29, I was sharing a message with a group of adults predominantly in their 70s, 80s and a few in their 90s. Some of them had been married longer than I had been alive x 2! So process that for a second. What does someone in their late 20s have to share with a room full of senior citizens, full of life experiences, about how to suffer? Everything.

Let me give you the same quick recap I gave them of my ‘credentials’:

At 26, I had to walk through the experience of losing my father suddenly. He died of a heart attack at the age of 60. I will never forget receiving that phone call, and driving home just sobbing but praying out to God. I prayed, “Lord, guide me. I don’t know why but allow me to lead my home in the coming days in a God-honoring way.” I stood a week later eulogizing my dad. This was the first time in my life that I honestly experienced what it meant to hurt, to feel pain and to suffer.

In 2013, my wife and I found out we were expecting twin daughters. At 17 weeks we found out our daughters appeared to have what is called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Essentially, one child is receiving more nutrients than the other and this has a potential doubly negative effect on one getting too little and one getting too much. By 18 weeks, it was evident they had TTTS and we were scheduled with 1 of only 4 surgeons in the country that performed the procedure to potentially fix this syndrome, which itself was extremely dangerous and risky. By 19 weeks, we found out that we had lost our daughters. We didn’t even make it to the procedure. There was nothing we could do.

I spent the next 6 months (and beyond) walking alongside of my wife as we struggled through this to understand why and go on after a tragic loss. I continually prayed to God for understanding and for healing. I prayed the same prayer after my dad died to honor God through this and to guide us. Even when I didn’t want to pray that prayer. I walked alongside my wife, held her, cried with her. My goal was and continued to be to honor and love her as a Godly husband should.

In 2 short years, I walked through a great deal of suffering, and I have been able to reflect on what it means to suffer and how we are meant to suffer. 

We live in a very individualistic society today, and we often pride ourselves on ‘going it alone.’ And unfortunately, this mentality has seeped into how we walk in times of suffering. We often feel like we can’t burden others with our pain or on the other side of the coin want to either appear strong or show others that we are fine by ourselves. But this isn’t true most of the time, and this isn’t healthy. Because I believe we are meant to suffer and walk in times of pain surrounded by others and in community. 

From what I’ve witnessed in others and in myself, we tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss. Oftentimes we don’t want to be a burden on others, and I think this is wrong. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. I don’t care if it is an illness, the loss of a parent or child, the loss of a job, or whatever it might be, all pain and suffering matters and is significant. So don’t let you or anyone else quantity it as something less than it is: it is pain, it is suffering. It’s real, it hurts. And you need people around you. We need to go through suffering with other people instead of in isolation. We were created for relationships, we were created to be with other people, and I believe that even in our most painful, hurt-filled and vulnerable moments we need to be surrounded and supported by others.

We must lean into others and allow them the opportunity to serve us and walk alongside of us. I couldn’t imagine going through those two years without my wife and without the small group from our church. Having people we could call when we just needed a night to play board games to simply take our minds off things or having people bring us meals for an entire month so we could just come home after work and be together was incredible. People did this for us because they loved and cared about us, and wanted to show God’s love to us.

So let me end with this: Be the one who leans into those who are suffering and serves them. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to people as this will make all the difference. Show people you care. In an increasingly disconnected world outside of social media, pour into people when they need it the most. Trust me, they’ll need it and remember it, even if they don’t realize it at that moment.

Too Busy Not To Read

I love to ask people what they’ve read recently that they enjoyed and would recommend. The wide array of responses I get back are always interesting. But about half the time I ask this I get back something like, “I haven’t read anything lately. I don’t have time to read right now. I’m really busy.” It’s amazing how we can find time for TV shows, movies, Netflix, social media, bad football (Chicago Bears), and plenty of other things. Think about your past month and year. Outside of work and sleep, what did you fill your time with the most?

Now, I love everything I just listed above and take plenty of time in a week to watch through some of my ever growing Netflix queue or watch bad football (Chicago Bears). But I also have made it a priority to read. I once heard from a professor that the only difference between you now and you in five years are the books you read. I agree with this. I believe reading challenges us, entertains us and grows us. Reading grows us for today and prepares us for what is to come in the future. The argument could be made that reading is so important to our personal development that it is too important for us not to read.

One of my favorite explanations of how little time it takes each day to work through books comes from John Piper in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. While this book is written for pastors (and please forgive the complementarian book title) I believe this section of the book applies to all people that want to grow in their personal lives and further develop themselves in any subject. Here is what John Piper writes,

“Suppose you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read five thousand words. An average book has about four hundred words to a page. So you could read about twelve-in-a-half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 x 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. This means you could read fifteen books like that in one year” (80).

Twenty minutes a day. That’s all it takes. How many hours a day or in a week do you watch sports? How many hours watching tv shows? Or movies? Or cruising Facebook and Twitter? Again, these are not terrible things. I watch plenty of tv and sports, but I have made it a priority to read at a minimum of 20 minutes each day for the past few years. If you set aside only 20 minutes at some point just think how much you could grow in a year if you were able to read 15 books.

I want to challenge you to start this today. I had a boss who when I shared this section of this book with him he told me once a day at a certain time to come into his office, remind him it was that time and he would stop whatever he was doing and would read for 20 minutes. Maybe you don’t have the luxury to do that at work, but what about before work or after work? Or after the kids go to bed? Or when you go to bed? Challenge yourself to grow. It doesn’t take much time, and it is too important for you not to read.

How many books would you like to read in 2017? My goal is 75 this year. I’d love to hear yours!

Idealistic Dreams of Another Era

Below is a quote from John Piper’s Brothers We Are Not Professionalswhich is a book of short essays which look at the importance of the pastor (and I would say all ministry leaders) abandoning the professionalization of the pastorate/church and pursue the prophetic call of the Bible for radical ministry. I’d highly recommend this book if you are a pastor or are in ministry. (Please forgive the complementarian title and tone of the book, I promise the content is fantastic.)

How astonishing it is that God wills to do His work through people. It is doubly astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so by us. (…) I was amazed once to hear a seminary graduate say how adequate he felt for the ministry after his years of schooling. This was supposed to be a compliment to the school. The reason this amazed me is that the greatest theologian and missionary and pastor who ever lived cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Not because he was a bungler but because the awful calling of emitting the fragrance of eternal life for some and eternal death for others was a weight he could scarcely bear. A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit–which is the only kind that matters–knows neither God nor himself. A pastor who does not know the rhythm of desperation and deliverance must have his sights only on what man can achieve.

Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to “nothing.” For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer. (…) Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day. And sometimes I fear that our seminaries conform to this deadly pragmatism that stresses management and maneuvering as ways to get things done with a token mention of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit. Refuse to believe that the daily hours Luther and Wesley and Brainerd and Judson spent in prayer are idealistic dreams of another era.

Favorite Quotes from The Contemplative Pastor

I recently finished Eugene Peterson’s classic book, The Contemplative Pastorand I am studying through it with a pastor friend of mine. In this book, Peterson looks at returning the art of spiritual direction during an age where churches and pastors are over-busy, overworked and in many ways overlooking the essentials of ministries. The Contemplative Pastor is over 25 years old but sadly much of what Peterson addresses is still relevant or in some cases worse off. Here are a few of my favorite quotes that hit me the hardest as I read. I would highly recommend this book to any Christian, pastor or ministry leader who desires to step away from the noise of society that has infiltrated many churches and get back to the lost art of listening and presence.

  • A healthy noun doesn’t need adjectives. But if the noun is culture-damaged or culture-diseased, adjectives are necessary. (15)
  • How can I lead people into the quiet place beside still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place? (19)
  • I want the people who come to worship in my congregation each Sunday to hear the Word of God preached in such a way that they hear its distinctive note of authority as God’s Word, and to know that their own lives are being addressed on their home territory. A sound outline and snappy illustrations don’t make that happen. (21)
  • Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith. (33)
  • With programs shaping the agenda–not amazing grace, not stubborn sin–the pastor doesn’t have to be patient. (48)
  • What we do on Sundays has not really changed through the centuries: proclaiming the gospel, teaching Scripture, celebrating the sacraments, offering prayers. But the work between Sundays has changed radically, and it has not been a development but a defection. (57)
  • It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. (59)
  • The central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language. (89)
  • The Son of God empties himself of prerogative, of divine rights, of status and reputation, in order to be the one whom God uses to fill up creation and creatures with the glory of salvation. A bucket, no matter what wonderful things it contains, is of no use for the next task at hand until it is emptied. (102)

I highly recommend you grab The Contemplative Pastor and put it on the list of one of the first books you read in 2016. It will challenge you, frustrate you, and leave you thirsting for Christ more in all areas of your life and church. We all could use more of that!

Owen on the Christian Life – Review

I’m not a big biography reader, but I have been incredibly pleased and have enjoyed the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway. I have now read four books in this series, and have thoroughly devoured and highlighted heavily each of these books. Most recently I have read Owen on the Christian LifeAlong with not reading many biographies, I have not read any books by John Owen. I have had Mortification of Sin on my reading list for about five years now, but just haven’t read it. However, I have heard a great deal about this theologian and so I was immediately interested in diving into this book from Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin.

One thing that I have loved about this series is that they have taken theological “giants” and made the accessible for all levels of reader whether new believer, long time believer, pastor, seminarian, etc. Barrett and Haykin walk through the life of John Owen as well as looking at the doctrines that he contributed to the most, and shown how his life and his understanding of a specific Christian doctrine help the reader to be able to live their own Christian life better knowing this all. Barrett and Haykin (as well as all the others/editors in this series) have done a great job of showing Owen and the other theologians in this series are human and have questions about many doctrines and how they walked through Scripture and life to put their understandings into practice. We all need to see this as we all go through these same walks.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all Christians to want to know how to pursue God more fully. I am appreciative to Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin for this book, and I am more appreciative to John Owen for his passion for Christ and desire to show Him in all that He did in his life.