I’m working on a sermon in which a beloved brother dies, and the One who could have kept him alive and could have saved them the hurt and suffering delays in a seemingly callous way. We wonder where God is in our suffering, but often we don’t have to wonder where people are. They tell us, when maybe they shouldn’t.

I was reminded of a very wise, very short song by Charlie Peacock.

Now is the time for tears
Don’t speak
Save your words
There’s nothing you could say
To take this pain away
Don’t try so hard
You can just simply be
Cry with me don’t try to fix me friend
That’s how you’ll comfort me

Heavenly Father cover this child with mercy
You are my helper through this time of trial and pain
Silence the lips of the people with all of the answers
Gently show them now is the time
Now is the time
Now is the time for tears

Bullies at the Table

In a nearby community, recently, a father was walking his daughter, who has cerebral palsy, to the bus stop for school when in tears she confessed to him how others on the bus treated her. Admittedly not handling the situation in a proper way, he stormed on to the bus issuing profanity laden threats to the other students and the driver of the bus. He was arrested and later apologized for behavior that most of us fully understand.

Today, a woman from a nearby church issued a grace filled statement reflecting not only a deep understanding of the situation, but also a knowledge of the Gospel that brings both bullies and the tormented together.

“I am comforted by the thought that one day, those of us who’ve come to realize our need for Him will sit together at the Master’s table—those who have been bullied and those who were the bullies.”

The whole is printed below:

All month, I have been following the story of James Jones, the Florida dad who was compelled to stand-up for his teenage daughter who lives with cerebral palsy. Running on emotion and leaving his logic behind, he stormed onto a Seminole County school bus to confront the kids who were bullying his daughter.

It’s so sad and frustrating to see kids who are different being bullied today. I understand this better than most. I have Cerebral Palsy. I was teased and bullied all through school. As a small child, kids compared me to the Weebles from a toy commercial during the early 70s. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Thirty-five years later, and I still feel as if people are going to sing that song to me when I enter a room.

As a student high school, it was so much worse—with kids breaking the equipment I needed to be successful. My sophomore year, three different tape recorders were destroyed. The last straw for my mom was when I came home in tears because the boys were throwing one-inch nuts and bolts at my head. When my mom went to speak to the teacher, he said he would not have the problem if I were not in the class! The following year, I went to private high school, where I was on the homecoming court and was prom queen! Ok, so my graduating class was small.

I say this all to say this has gone on for decades. Sadly, it’s what kids do. What I’ve come to realize is that God is bigger than people and holds each of us in the palm of His hand. I wish it were different and that we would all see the value of people for who they are.

We’re all sinners in need of a Savior. I am comforted by the thought that one day, those of us who’ve come to realize our need for Him will sit together at the Master’s table—those who have been bullied and those who were the bullies. The Master loves us equally, and that is more than I can fathom.

I’m with My Daddy

With my mind, I eschew the so-called prosperity ‘gospel’, that system of thought teaching that God wants his people to expect good health and financial prosperity, and that the sign of God’s blessing is fitness and riches.

But with my heart, I find I am a card carrying believer. When the script of my life goes contrary to my desires for comfort and safety, I am taken aback. I wonder about God’s love and question his goodness. In the darkness of my heart my assessment of the NORM for the Christian life is prosperity. When it does not come, it can only be that God has failed me.

Such thinking shows that I am a true blue believer in the prosperity ‘gospel’, not in that part of my mind which forms the words I speak and the convictions I articulate, but in that part that feeds my heart and my emotions and my desires and my faith.

This morning I was reading about Peter in Acts 12. Peter is imprisoned, and yet the church prays for him. As a result, an angel comes, leads him through miraculously swinging gates, and into the still night a free man. This is the kind of thing my prosperity trained faith would expect. It is a wonderful thing, and we praise God for it, and we look for similar experiences in our own lives.

Too bad that James did not get to see any of this.

James, the apostle, the brother of John, did not get to see or celebrate Peter’s miraculous release. Herod did not bother imprisoning James. He just flat out killed him.

So, Peter lived out a miracle, and James just died. Both faithful men. Both among Jesus’ inner circle. Both leaders in the church. Both according to my ‘prosperity’ thinking deserving of God’s best. One is simply slaughtered, the other delivered.

James, though, not Peter, is the norm. The norm in a world Jesus described as a place where his people ‘will have tribulation’ is not Peter being rescued, but rather the saints in Hebrews 11 losing meals, body parts, and loved ones. The norm is James.

When I make Peter’s deliverance the norm, then I grumble and question God over every problem in my life (currently: broken timing belt on daughter’s car) and am blind to the plethora of blessings around me (currently: I slept in a comfortable bed last night, with a full tummy, in reasonable health, with a loving family, and a wonderful church, and…).

When, on the other hand, I take Jesus seriously and believe that the world he has overcome is a world in which tribulation is the norm, I am not shocked by James’ death, though saddened, and I am thrilled by not only Peter’s deliverance, but deeply thankful for the smaller and seemingly mundane blessings of food on my plate and daughters who still call me ‘Daddy’.

When I retrieved my daughter from along I-4 on Tuesday as a tow truck hooked on to her dead car, she was talking with a friend on her phone telling her what had happened. “It’s okay now,” she said, “I’m with my daddy.”

That is the gospel we are to embrace, the gospel of a Father’s love displayed in the faithfulness of the cross. In this world there will be tribulation.

But it’s okay, now. We’re with our ‘Daddy’.

Your Writing Won’t Save You

Writer Joyce Carol Oates, wrote recently an essay about her conflicted struggle to accept widowhood after the sudden death of her husband. It is a wonderful piece.

joyce-carol-oates-memoir-wide.jpgOne of the tasks she faced was that of cleaning up the aftermath of her husband’s editorial work on the Ontario Review. The pile of submitted stories all had to receive ‘rejection’ notices since the publication was shutting down.

In communicating this, she wanted to find some way to encourage these young writers.

“Even in my numbed state I feel an impulse to encourage writers, or anyway a wish not to discourage them. Thinking It would have meant something to me, years ago.

I think I would like someone like this who, even in her sorrow, is thinking of others.

But her concern for these up and coming writers runs deeper than this. She senses that what these writers are seeking in their writing is significance, purpose, a sense of place. Her trauma has brought everything into perspective. She continues:

“Though nothing means much to me, now. The possibility of being ‘encouaged’ has become abstract and theoretical to me — ‘encouraged’ for what purpose?

Your writing will not save you. Managing to be published – by Ontario Review Press! – will not save you. Don’t be deluded.

This is so poignant and so true. We fix our eyes upon a goal and think that if we only achieve that goal, we will be important, we will find significance, we will finally find meaning.

And we do, for a time.

But this voice of wisdom, loss, and reality says, “Your writing (marriage, business, childbearing, religion, morality) will not save you.”

Worth pondering.

The Reward for Righteousness

A friend is struggling with a company that is not profitable. The outlook is bleak, and the worries great. This is a person who has always had life turn sour, who has yet been a wonderful person, full of life and faith and a desire to serve others. It’s sad in substance, and it is sad to watch the struggle of faith this has generated.

I was thinking about this as I read 2 Samuel 11 this morning. It occurred to me that the most righteous person in this story is rewarded with an unjust death. David gets the girl, keeps his power, and lives a long life. Uriah dies.

It’s not fair.

At least we all, and my friend, who struggle can realize at some level that we are not alone. Our struggles are not God’s judgment upon us. Often the most righteous suffer the most. Jesus for example.

But Jesus is more than an example. Jesus is the one we cling to. Jesus is the one who assures us that there is reward. He is the one in whom we know that apart from the injustices of life there is a God in whose hands we securely are placed. He has secured that for us. In union with him, on the other side of suffering, there is glory.

I hope my friend can see that.


My day started by my spilling coffee all over some papers I was carrying, followed by finding out that I had scheduled a meeting of a committee I chair for next Monday but had failed to inform any of the members of that committee. All that is a problem to me, and represented two messes that I’ve needed to work on cleaning up this morning.

And yet, where is my perspective on ‘mess’ and ‘suffering’?

Last night I received an email update from a man who is serving in Haiti with his wife and family. He is a man I met a number of years ago. He is a gentle, soft-spoken Haitian man with a heart deeply committed to serving Christ.

When I first met him, he was in seminary, adding Greek and Hebrew to his complement of languages which already included French, Creole, and English. He persevered and was eventually ordained to the gospel ministry in our presbytery, our association of churches.

He pastored for a time a church of Haitian families. He loved them and faithfully served them. I met there his lovely wife and their four delightful boys, all of whom remind me of my own son who is, himself, of Haitian ethnic descent.

But he was not settled there. His heart yearned for his native land. Though he could live comfortably pastoring in Florida, he chose to move with his wife and family to the depravation of life in Haiti. He chose this. This is Crazy Love personified.

Our last personal contact with him came last year some time when he was gathering material to replace the personal belongings he and others had lost as a result of the hurricane triggered floods in Haiti. He received what we could give with joy and gratitude, though he had lost nearly everything. He still went back to Haiti.

So, when the earthquake hit, we all immediately thought of him and his family. We were happy to hear that they had survived. We were saddened to hear that they could not reenter their house. Though it had not collapsed, it has been seriously weakened and is now unusable.

Last night, I tried to read to my family an email update from our friend, whose name I’m purposely not using since I am going to copy from that email, and don’t have any way of securing his permission to do so. So he remains here anonymous. But I tried to read the letter, but couldn’t without weeping, overwhelmed with his suffering, with the sense of helplessness, and with the realization that this is what he has chosen. This is where love for Jesus has led him.

Dear Partners in Christ,

There is a new update in our situation here in Port-au-prince. Today at about 1:00PM the principal of the Christian School came to me and my wife and said, “I have made connection to Missionary Flight international for your wife and the boys to leave the country and you have five minutes to be ready.” They had no time to even change and go get some clothes at home. As I am writing this email they are in the air going to Florida to my mother-in-law.

As for me, I am here at the school trying to minister to the people that have lost children, parents, siblings. People whose houses have collapsed. The scene is horrible. The air is polluted with the smells of dead bodies laying everywhere. My kids have seen dead bodies and they are so afraid that they could not even sleep.

Please pray for us for this open opportunity to share the wondrous love of our God. People are dying here because the relief effort of the international community and the government is very slow. There are cities like Leogane that is destroyed at about 80%.

This is a huge thing.I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of devastation and the amount of people that died. Every body, including ourselves, have been sleeping on the streets under the stars.

Please Pray!

Yes, indeed, please pray.