Since August 2021 (I.e. Juby’s birth month), reading the Bible has been, eh, rather hit and miss.
Take 550 days and probably 500 of them, I could have gone deeper but didn’t on account of feeling too stunned, silent or somewhat afraid of the idea God may not be near when I want Him to be.
Granted, this is a loaded sentiment and not the reason I’m writing this though the choice of intimacy is a category worth unpacking later on. For now, I want to take a SOAP Bible study approach to Job 23 where we find a defeated yet inquisitive protagonist doing what all of us should do when we’re going through hell or hard times in general…talking to/wrestling with God!
Reading this passage afresh and anew, I love how Job pairs his rawness with pure vulnerability. Starting in v. 2, Job calls his shot as a bitter vent only to disclose its motivation in the following lines:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!” (v. 3)
“I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me.” (v. 5)
But then in v. 8, we see the insecurity, all too relatable but perfectly justifiable: “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him.”
Per my hesitation to press into divine, I find this transparency encouraging as in banner-like fashion, Job captures an all too familiar fear…
What if everything I’ve thought of you, hoped you would be isn’t there in times I need you the most? You are God! So by default, your nature cannot be conditional. You are unchanging (v. 13). You are just! So by virtue, you will cover me, help me…do something…right? Right !?!
Fast-forward down to v. 15-16 and we see another facet of Job’s skepticism:
“Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.”
So clearly, Job isn’t just scared of the prospect of God’s abandonment but God Himself! To me, this gives insight not only to the weight of Job’s despair but also to how Satan might sow seeds of distrust within the weary heart. I can only imagine Job’s inner voice desperately fighting off the daggers: I mean…He’s God. He can choose to do whatever He wants including not being true to me. I’ve been loyal but He’s not obligated to reciprocate.
See the danger here in how we can make God out to be a liar when we’re overwhelmed and bombarded? Or even worse, to make Him into a relative, subjective orphan-generating God whose love actually has a reach?
Oh, that we all may find that inner Job in us who though weak, walks in the meek…and is not so easily discouraged by the absence of goodness in the moment but stays hungry through healthy inquisition…
You are all I have, Lord God…so I will cling to my all. True, I may groan and shudder…but I will do those things in Your direction knowing at the very least, the present void is no match for a sovereign God trying me so I will come out as gold (v. 13).
Feel what you may, labor are you will…He will complete what He has appointed for you as many such things are in His mind.
And that is a bottom line for tonight, my friends: Be free to be still but don’t be silent in your darkness. Who knows? God may actually give you words so that you can argue with Him! All for the grand purpose of drawing near to His heart and knowing without a shadow of a doubt, everything will be okay.
Five weeks in, it’s hard to believe we’re almost a quarter into the 21st century. Goodness, where does the time go?
Steadfastness perhaps? Fresh rhythms associated to the pursuit of happiness and meaning? A deep burn for growth, change, and momentum?
Whatever the case, no one is immune to these drives even if our gears are stuck in idle, or worse, broken entirely. I guess for me, I’m still trying to figure out what God has in store this year, not just for me and my family, but for the body at large.
Granted, I can speak to local developments as by now, you probably know Lys and I are expecting again. May the record forever show this new life is the quintessential divine surprise if at the least on account of shattered probability and intended outcome. Praise God He establishes our steps no matter how we chart our course, but dear Lord, please for the love of you, protect this life and keep our family safe in your arms.
As for recent revelations, they are trickling in. Some book fodder, others not so much. One idea for thought, and this may end up in our Juby Journey book to come, is the character arch of Martha as culminated in the death of Lazarus.
Now, I’m sure many of you have some recollection of Mary and Martha especially during their first encounter with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42), how Mary submitted herself like a rabbinic disciple, how Martha lost sight of her priorities as she elevated hospitality over host, etc.
And before I forget to say it, oh, how I can relate to Martha in this passage! Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m the kind of person who would want to eliminate distractions (and the potential variety) before the main event. Honestly, I get what Martha was doing. She just lost sight of what mattered…in the presence of Jesus. In the construct of contrast, Mary not only resonated with Christ’s desire for her to receive first, serve second but swiftly adapted to a reversal of cultural norm. Martha, still conditioned by peer expectations and her spiritual giftings, had a picture of the end game, as if she was working towards a postcard moment; however, Mary continually listened in profound posture. To her, Jesus was the distraction, the ultimate deep dish being served to her for such a time as this. By scene’s end, the opportunity for constructive criticism would take form.
Now, was the time for Martha to listen and receive her portion!
Fast-forward to John 11 and we see progression of Martha’s faith on display immediately after Lazarus passes away.
Starting in v. 20, we note Martha, not Mary, was the first to greet him. Though the rationale behind Mary’s stillness is debatable, what’s clear is Martha, in the midst of tremendous heartbreak, did not let her grief stop her from anticipating Jesus. In fact, in a way, you could say Martha pursued Jesus with trust dripping off the tongue.
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give to You.”
Again, for all you Juby fans, these two sentences…they are worth a separate ‘selah’ and I promise you this will be expounded upon. For now, I can’t help but appreciate Martha’s maturation as revealed through her response to conviction. Even in a life versus death situation, Martha knew it wasn’t about an outcome but who God was and what He could do. What Martha missed in the small, she nailed in the big, not to mention she set Jesus up for one of his most memorable lines in v. 25:
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in Me [as Savior] will never die.”
All in all, this was a home-run moment for Martha in the sense she believed in Christ’s identity and purpose even as she wrestled with raw motion. Per v. 27:
“Yes, Lord; I have believed and continue to believe that You are the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of God, He who was [destined and promised] to come into the world [and it is for You that the world has waited].”
And finally, by v. 35, we come full circle. While Martha’s hope in the Son of God was confirmed, her emotion amidst transcending circumstances would help move the Son of Man to tears and even more notably, into a critical point of relatability. Just as you and me mourn, just as you and me process, so too can we identity to Jesus who knows what it’s like to be overcome by the very things He came to liberate us from. For in this world, we will be worried and bothered and anxious about many things but only one thing is necessary…and just like Mary and Martha in their respective victories, we can choose the good part which can never be taken away from us.
So today…I’m going to tackle a new subject after an impromptu discussion on it Wednesday night during LEGACYouth.
The subject? Divorce.
Duh, duh, duhhh…
Now, before you panic and exit [p]age left, let me offer a few disclaimers:
1) By no means do I consider myself a marriage counseling expert; I’m just a youth pastor who knows what a happy marriage tastes like and what the Word says about it.
2) By no means do I want to come across as insensitive to what some readers may be going through. So please understand it’s my earnest desire to broach this post with utmost humility.
‘Cause truth is: There’s much for me to learn on the matter; however, I hope the little I do know can be effective, insightful and…dare I say enlightening.
With that said, as many of us are aware: divorce is both a relevant and prevalent issue in society today. And as a pastor of students, a quarter of whom are struggling/have struggled with divorce in the family, it’s an especial concern. Yes, I know it can be “taboo” to talk about divorce outside of closed doors (trust me…I balked initially at writing this); then again, I’m not one to feel ashamed of affirming God’s purposes. After all, how can the truth speak if it’s not heard?
Moving on…if someone came up to you and asked why divorce is such an epidemic…what would you say?
Lost sense of meaning/identity?
I mean…if you were to start there, I’d certainly see why.
But I guess for me…I’d have to start with man’s dissatisfaction with what God has appointed him (i.e. everything we need for goodness/godliness, which for many of us, includes marriage at some point in our lives)…and his satisfaction in making conditional aspects of God’s nature we’re called to emulate.
To put it simply: I believe we, as a culture, have long lost sight of what covenant is. Even in the church, many have bought into the idea marriage is more about compatibility than companionship. Granted, there’s nothing wrong about compatibility. I just think if we’re quick to [ab]use a perceived lack of it as a means to separate ‘lifetime’ from ‘commitment’, then we’re flirting with unholy prioritization1.
Still, for those who’ve ever waked through marital turbulence, you know the tension is an entirely different animal in it than outside it. Thus, how we cope when the temptation to divorce knocks and how we encourage those holding onto their marriage for dear life are worthy discussions.
But before we dive in, we must first consider what God thinks…which leads me to my first truth:
1) God absolutely hates divorce.
Consider Malachi 2:16: “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel.”
Pretty strong language, right? Then again, this makes perfect sense. After all, God is love and by nature contests his antithesis. Whatever the case, whenever we hear ‘God’ and ‘hate’ in the same sentence, it should arrest our attention, especially since fearing God means to love what God loves and hate what God hates.
2) God’s intends our vows to be unbreakable.
Consider Proverbs 20:25:“It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”
After further review, I think it’s fair to say many of us don’t always weigh the weighty obligations of life before committing to them…and I submit part of the reason is our penchant to sub in our [largely subjective] conviction for God’s [absolute] conviction.
The crux here is: if we know the love/fallenness combo platter is a messy one, why then do we only consider the consecration of our vows after-the-fact when truth is: a) God has given us the commitment blueprint outline2 (i.e. consider your ways first and then hold true to them second) and b) God’s faithfulness and good intentions never waver.
Note: For some of you reading this, it’s not a matter of not considering your vows first before making them as much as it is you’ve grown numb to the magnitude of them. If that’s the case, then I encourage you: ask the Lord for fresh love for your spouse. Again, since God is love, the receiving is only contingent on your choice to accept it. Even the strongest couples in the world reach points when they must ask God for renewed devotion/passion for each other.
3) Apart from certain exceptions, divorce isn’t an option3.
“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Note how both passages raise up an exception clause (i.e. “marital unfaithfulness”) and subsequently the million-dollar question: Is it okay to divorce under the grounds of sexual immorality? Well, given such sin is an egregious breaking of marital covenant, I’d have to say ‘yes’; however, we must remember…
1) God is a God of grace who makes walking in repentance and restoration possible…
2) In God’s eyes, there’s no such thing as “irreconcilable differences”…
3) A one-time act of sexual immorality versus a pattern of sexual immorality are two [very] different things…
4) In the same way we’re called to be slow to anger, we must be [very] slow to divorce (hence the word “quickly” in Ecclesiastes 4:12). Regardless of the situation, divorce must be seen as a “no resort” before it’s treated as a “last resort”…
5) Achieving reconciliation is only possible if it’s pursued first; if the pursuit is one-sided, pray, seek counsel…and pray some more. Even if you feel alone, don’t ever underestimate the power of prayer…
6) Requesting help isn’t a sign of weakness…
7) As long as two people are married, they’re called to multiple a godly legacy. Sure, it may not be easy, but couples who fight the good fight together in sun and storm not only are more likely to stick together, but are more likely to inspire other couples to do the same.
But Cam, what about couples mired in verbal/physical/child abuse?
In these situations, I contend some form of separation is often a smart move if one side is unwilling to cooperate; however, if the abuser is willing to receive help, then it’s best both spouses walk in reconciliation hand-in-hand. ‘Cause again, the main objective is finding freedom from sin/strongholds together. Yes, be Spirit-led in setting boundaries and expectations; yes, do what’s best to preserve health and safety. Just remember to do these things a) trusting/relying on God every step of the way and b) resisting the urge to make self-preservation your default response to fear.
Anywho, I could say more, but given I’ve breached the 1,000 word barrier, I’m going to peace out and leave some questions for thought (see below). As always, feel free to comment or shoot a PM my way if any of this hits home.
‘Til then…have a blessed weekend and I’ll catch ya on the fry…
What’s been your experience with divorce?
Why do you think so many couples split?
How has your concept of covenant changed after reading this?
What truths do you abide by when it comes to being faithful in relationships (to friends, spouse, etc.)?What would you say is the best way to save a marriage? What are the absolute ‘musts’ when it comes to reconciliation?
1) Which in general hurts Christian community in many other ways…more on this in future posts…
2) Note: By ‘hold true’, I’m including prayer, verbal/behavioral expressions of commitment, setting goals, choosing joy, and integrating accountability into the mix. 3) i.e. There are no valid grounds for divorce.
So lately, I’ve been building my library, adding books to shelves in a quest to answer a timeless question:
Why do we suffer?
Yet, as I absorb Daniel Carrington and Philip Yancey, I’m curious if we should reconsider the inquiry as, ‘How should we suffer?’
For if suffering is a kingdom, a divine call, and the resilience guide to discovering God, then surely the way we endure merits discussion.
Perhaps you’re like me looking to mature through past and present challenges and hoping to think outward as opposed to inward. Either way, as we near the home stretch of 2022, these are the musings of yours truly…the emotional evolution of one still processing the passing of his youngest.
Granted, much has started to calibrate since my last post. The returns to certain norms are imminent. There have even been times I’ve wondered why I’m not more depressed than I am.
But at the core of it all, Lys and I feel like Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo returning to the shire from Mordor. Remember what Frodo said when he returned to Bag End in ‘Return of the King‘?
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on…when in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend…some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.”
To me, this begs the question: What then can ‘untake’ that hold? How then should the heart resound, if not through soundless bites that in hardship can be the most beautiful expression of vulnerability?
Answers aside, the line resonates, a heart prick that has compelled me to relish the truth:
The author and perfector of my faith is the same author and perfector of my pain who from the beginning of time ordained it as a means for me to choose Him!
Like any day I’m alive, I’m taking hold of it as one made in His image. Like any hour I’m awake, I’m taking hold of it to press into His likeness. Just because my heart is healing, doesn’t mean I can’t partake in divine remedy, the sweetness of God’s Immanuel presence and the power of His strength piercing the darkness.
When I’m tempted to retreat, I remember the out I have to retreat into Jesus. And from there, I springboard into the dichotomy between the questions above…that the difference between “Why do we suffer” and “How should we suffer”, in purest form, is the asker of the latter knowing he is loved by God and is willing to trust in His purposes. That it is unfathomable love wrapped in mystery orchestrating the narrative of triumph and perspective rising from the depths.
Like Lys and I of late, you may feel like Frodo, called into adventures beyond your understanding, wishing the rings of adversity, be it disappointment or grief, hadn’t come to you. Yet, in those Moria moments, remember that’s when the Spirit finds and refreshes us as Gandalf did to Frodo:
“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Sure, the year of Jubilee may be over but as her name implies, the happy ever afters are only beginning. Accordingly, we celebrate our precious daughter Hebrews 12:1 style, knowing she’s not only part of a great cloud of witnesses but also co-inspiration stirring us to lay aside the weight of anguish clinging closely…
…her voice an echo to the Master urging us to run our race with endurance.
As for you, my friends, whatever your mission is, know to be overwhelmed is only human and often the evidence of doing something right. Why not then fuse some Hebrews 12:1-2 along with some Romans 8:28 and Galatians 6:9 into the questions you’re asking? Why not faint not…knowing God works all things, including our sufferings, for good and makes things new as words trustworthy and true (Revelation 21:5)? You don’t have to bear the weight of deciphering your circumstances. Rather, you can bear each other’s burdens delighting in the fact God has you going somewhere. Even if loss is incurred along the way, remember nothing can separate you from God’s love and the victory He has in store for you.
At the very least, take it from Jubilee. Her life was a gift but even more so her legacy. What keeps her Spirit alive is the same Spirit who in whispers:
Reminds us He’s there because He’s been there and…
Ignites us to see how discovering God through perseverance as the best way to journey through suffering.
In closing, I return to Yancey: “As we rely on God and trust His Spirit to mold us in His image, true hope takes shape within us, ‘a hope that does not disappoint.’ We can literally become better persons because of suffering. Pain, however meaningless it may seem at the time, can be transformed. Where is God when it hurts? He is in us—not in the things that hurt—helping to transform bad into good. We can safely say that God can bring good out of evil; we cannot say that God brings about the evil in hopes of producing good.”
One week into August…and we’re starting to hit those milestone anniversaries. Crazy how we’re already at the one-year mark from when the Juby Journey started, at least as we know it.
For those following our page updates, Juby has been oscillating on her paralytic the past 48 hours netting in a positive direction. Honestly, given the dire position she was in a few weeks ago, I’ll take baby step progress any way we can get it. Yet, while the arrow is a mild point up at the moment, I can’t help but feel I’m riding a similar line spiritually speaking.
In a sense, I feel so hollow, so numb…it’s like I’m threading the needle between supernatural protection and self-preservation. On one hand, it’s not hard for me to routinely release Juby into God’s hands and anchor surrender in yielded trust; on the other, the depressive thoughts continue to mount, the slope ever more slippery as the need for thought captivation increases.
From the ‘God, am I somehow the hold up to Juby being fully healed’ to ‘I wish I could go back to student pastoring again…somewhere far away from here’…the thought captivity meter is basically in whack a mole’ mode. And I wish there was an off button.
Still, every hour is one at a time laced with opportunities to say ‘no’ to fear and ‘yes’ to higher alternatives. From upticking K-LOVE radio play to binge watching posthumous footage of Joy Dawson, there are many ways to punch Satan in the face these days.
But then there’s last Sunday when Lys had the opportunity to share the Word at The Gate Church in Franklin.
Listening to her speak, I couldn’t quench the goosebumps as she delivered a message similar to one I shared with LEGACYouth six years ago during an ‘Intentionality of Jesus’ series.
Past and present infused, there I was in Matthew 14:22-33, storybooked next to Jesus ahead of his second Sea of Galilee cameo.
Six chapters earlier (Matthew 8:23-27), Jesus had demonstrated His power over the water in the boat; now He was about to manifest His power, patience, and Immanuel presence on the water outside the boat. You talk about poetic symmetry in motion. Here was the Son of God who used His voice to quiet the waves, who proceeded to miraculously feed the 5,000, who had already previewed His identity to the disciples…yet hadn’t employed His move strategic maneuver. At least until v. 23 in which Jesus retreats to pray following a massive ministerial stretch and learning his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed. Aware of the weather conditions, Jesus then calls notable audible in v. 25:
Now, for most reading this, these four words are perhaps anecdotal to the passage’s climax in v. 33 when the disciples acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But to his guy, these words hit close to home in a way I couldn’t possibly understand outside this current season.
‘Cause truth is: The disciples didn’t call out to Jesus to come to them; rather Jesus made the first move, calling out to them so they could call back and respond accordingly. Almost a complete reversal of Matthew 8, Jesus isn’t arbitrarily prayer-walking around waiting for something to happen. Conversely, He is resetting into the Father and planting himself, albeit in distance, to make His presence known. How many times have we sensed the faint fragrance of Christ and like Peter couldn’t resist the urge to confirm its realness?
Granted, we should respect Peter in this story for breaking physics through child-like faith alone. For he knew He couldn’t control the elements yet understood His calling in the moment…get out of the boat and draw near to Jesus…cyclone be darned. Through hell or high water, Peter knew what mattered most was where he was going and who he was going to; hence, why he had no problem doing what he deemed most sensible when he lost visual: He cried out to Jesus for a supernatural, warp-speed extension of the hand ever reaching into the chaos…
…met with the grasp of saving grace.
‘Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?’ (v. 32).
Not a reprimand, mind you, but a reminder: I’m with you always and was there from the beginning. Don’t ever think my hand is too short to save.
Back in the NICU, I continue to marvel at this little life. As one who feels small often, I can resonate to a certain extent. But strangely, I couldn’t care less…because like Peter, if Jesus confesses His proximity and in response, I ask Him to ask me to believe the impossible…heck, yes, sign me up for that as long as I have breath. No matter how long Juby lives, I don’t want to ask Jesus to save her, to save me, to save my family…if I’m not willing to walk on water amidst the neighboring halls praying without ceasing. I don’t want to ask Jesus to help me if I’m not willing to press into the Father…if I don’t make vertical reliance a priority over a given moment or assignment.
After all, the Son of God is with me…and comes to me. May our faith, like Peter, understand what’s most important and progress correspondingly…