Rebecca Burtram

Right to Be Wrong

That’s Right, You Can Be Wrong

I reserve the right to be wrong, and I think you should too.

I do many activities in my classroom that ask students to take sides, consider their beliefs and views, and ask themselves hard questions about human nature, faith, science, society, etc. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to expect these young men and women to hold the exact same views they claim today ten years from now?

Believe Me

We are currently writing “This I Believe” essays, and we did an activity in which students agreed or disagreed with statements like life is fair, money can’t buy happiness, and the police are our friends. After they picked a side (literally since the left side of the room was agree and the right was disagree), they were asked to share personal experiences that shaped their stances.

My students heard the story of a peer who was depressed and went shopping but still felt sad afterwards, which was very convincing as to why the student would feel that money can’t buy happiness. They also heard a classmate share about how much joy a gift of money brought to a family who was struggling with finances, and the belief that money can buy happiness became valid.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, they were exposed again and again to the personal experiences of their classmates that led them to beliefs that didn’t all line up with each other. The world of belief went from clear cut divisions to blurry lines.

At different points in the year, I tell my students that it is okay to feel strongly about something in this moment based on their current perspectives, but I ask them to also be open to the idea of their views changing some day. If we are never refining our beliefs, it is likely we are not growing.

More Than a Soundbite

I have been disheartened many times in the past year to watch our media and culture tear individuals to shreds over decisions they made many years in the past. I get it. The decisions were wrong. However, are we unable to give any grace and allow people room for growth and change?

I desperately do not want people to look at some of my past actions or statements and decide that those moments are mirrored reflections of who I am in this moment. They are parts that have shaped me to where I stand today, but you had better believe that I do not want all I have ever done that is good to be discredited by a poor decision in my past. If I must be judged, please let it be by the fact that I am willing to admit my failings and try again.

Life is far too complex to simply grab soundbites and call them the full story.

One of my closest friends and I hold differing views on a hot topic issue. Every couple of years we seem to discuss it again, and wouldn’t you know the conversation and our views have become more nuanced and more refined over the years. Our conversation is ongoing, and soundbites of one piece of the dialogue may contradict soundbites from other times. And that is okay… and even, dare I say, healthy.

I am 100% Certain

There are many things I 100% believe in this moment, and I could argue my stance on them for hours. Just know, I reserve the right to be wrong. I might receive new information or experience something that contradicts my original premise, and if I have any sense I will be forced to reevaluate my positions. God forbid, I might just come to the conclusion that I was wrong and have to change my views.

I firmly believe we should be open to the idea that we might not be right. But, then again, I could be wrong.

LEARNING

To Your Knees

I was overcome with emotion as I watched a family fall to their knees in prayer.

Granted it was a fictional family from an over the top Netflix Telenovela/Comedy that many would criticize me for watching, but the scene still resonated deeply within me.

I was suddenly emotionally back to the moments I have been brought to my knees, desperately asking God for his miraculous intervention.

Even the writers of a show riddled with lifestyle choices that are completely against the Bible know that when an obstacle gets too big, you fall to the ground and ask God to intervene.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had that type of overwhelming need, yet the image reminded me of that fact that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to admit we are overwhelmed. We can’t do this life independently.

I forget how much I need something bigger than me. I forget to throw my hands up and hit my knees. I forget it is okay to not be okay. I forget that I am never alone in my need.

When I go to my knees, there is someone there ready to hold me.

Man kneeling. When life is overwhelming, God is there.

LEARNING

WHERE DO YOU BELONG?

There is a quote on belonging from Brené Brown that I love. It is exactly, in only one paragraph, so much of what I have been trying to communicate for about three years on this blog. 

Sure, she manages to pull it off in just a few sentences, but I’m not jealous of her communication skills. Okay, maybe I am a little jealous.

Here are her three sentences that put several years of my writing to shame:

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. -Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. (emphasis my own)

Yes to authenticity. Yes to letting go of trying to present who we aren’t because it divides rather than unites. I told you; I love this quote.

God placed a longing for community and belonging in us to draw us together and to draw us to him. Just think about the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

Every commandment is there because God is giving us a guide to live our very best lives. When he told us to love God and to love others, he was giving us an instructional manual for emotional and spiritual health.

Our primal longing to be a part of something bigger stems from the fact that we were made to be in community with God. The entire Bible is telling us that he doesn’t need our perfection; he wants our humble acceptance of his power in our lives so he can do infinitely more through us than we could ever do alone. He is asking us to simply acknowledge our weaknesses and join him in community and allow him to fill in the areas where we lack.

However, God did not simply say to be in community with him. He says we should also love our neighbors (and our enemies for that matter). Our love for people reflects our love for God, and our love for God is reflected by loving people. God created us to be in community with him and with others.

We were made for so much more than most of us ever discover. Belonging doesn’t occur when we are better, smarter, or prettier. It begins when we accept our areas of weakness as our strengths. The areas we lack are what help us to realize our need for others and draw us into true community.

When we authentically love others with honesty and vulnerability, we become stronger communities and stronger individuals. It’s in our DNA. God made us for each other. 

LEARNING

Every Day New

Like many of you, I was thinking about this New Year as I woke up today. I have chosen Proverbs 31:25 as my verse to focus on for 2019. It says, “She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Here is the deal though; I didn’t feel as though I rang in the new year with strength or dignity.

Of course, I was feeling a bit down about that… until I ran on the boardwalk. I watched the waves come one after the other along the shoreline without stopping. Again and again the sand was wiped clean.

I was struck again by God’s creation and his message of grace in the patterns of nature. Each day the sun rises and sets without fail; the seasons follow their cycles; and the waves continue their movement.

In it all, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and the manner in which he has provided us opportunities for fresh starts. Your low moment is not the end of the story. Like salty water smoothing the sandy floor, a sunrise hitting the reset button on opportunity, or the first budding flower indicating a new season, God’s grace makes every day new.

Here’s to a year full of opportunities to live with strength, dignity, joy, and confidence that God holds my future.

LEARNING

GRACE LIKE SNOW

I hate the cold, but I love the snow.

I don’t use the word hate flippantly here when I say that I hate to be cold. Cold is the literal worst. That being said, why did I feel so content and happy as my feet hit the frigid floor this morning?

Easy, snow covers a multitude of sins. 

One, I didn’t have to wake up to an alarm today because we have a snow day. Two, I looked out my window, and my heart leapt from the beauty. 

Last night we took the truck out to get our nurse friend to the hospital, and I was a giddy school girl as we drove through a snow covered city. Every house with Christmas lights glimmering through white flakes had me exclaiming the wondrous joy of snow in December. (Side note, my friend was going to walk at least 5 miles in a snow storm to be there in the NICU for her shift because her car couldn’t get up the snow covered hill in her neighborhood. Nurses are amazing.) 

Snow washed away my every worry because I have a bonus day to both relax and catch up on all the tasks that have been weighing me down. 

We played cards, washed dishes, snuggled on the couch with a fire roaring and a movie playing, and simply enjoyed a Sunday evening knowing there would be plenty of time to fit everything in tomorrow. 

Today, I will make rice pudding because it is our warm, sweet snow day tradition, and I will separate the clothes in the ever growing mountain of clean laundry. We will all be home to fold laundry, watch Christmas movies, eat three meals together, and do paperwork/schoolwork. 

Snow brings us together, covers the ugly parts with beauty, and slows the pace of living to something more realistic. It allows us to be present in each moment without the worries of tasks waiting to be done.

Somehow the world is right when it is covered by snow. 

And although I fight the urge to be overly poetic in the middle of this elated state, I find myself wanting to make the metaphorical connection of a life covered in grace as I think of the brown, muddy mess our yard has become from the cold and rain or the barren branches of the winter season. These ugly scenes have been transformed with a clean, white powder and icing even though the cold which caused them remains. 

And isn’t that the way of grace? Doesn’t it take the messes we have made and find a way to transform them? Although the heart may still be cold or the situation unchanged, grace gives what is undeserved and makes life beautiful. There can be peace in the situation full of turmoil. There can be love stirred anew in a relationship that has become mud and mess. 

God, let it snow. Let your grace cover our world with your peace and presence. Let us be present where we are and see the beauty over the mud. Let us know that not everything needs to be fixed in this moment in order for life to be joyful. Help us to stop and breathe in deeply the beauty you have made in each of us. 

Ella took this photo of her friend on our ugly deck. How did such beauty cover a space so in need of repair?
LEARNING

This Post is For Me, Not You… I Think

cathedral under clouds near leafless tree
Photo by David Kovacs on Pexels.com

Be forewarned, this post is not particularly written with you in mind, so I’ve done very little to follow rules on how to engage you….. Maybe it’s a lesson for me on making sure I’m serving a different audience…the audience of ONE… or maybe it’s just a really bad blog post but a decent space for me to think. Either way, you have been warned, so don’t get mad at me if you don’t get anything from it.

Full disclosure, I am Pentecostal. I grew up in the Assemblies of God, both my parents and one of my brothers graduated from Central Bible College (an A/G school), and my husband and I graduated from Evangel University (another A/G school).  Jon and I planted an Assemblies of God church. Or did we really?

This is the thing I have been struggling with for years. It have two very strong desires when it comes to my church. The first is that lives would be transformed by God’s presence and activity. The second is that we wouldn’t have a “weird” church where people use the Holy Spirit as an excuse to draw attention to themselves instead of to God. I know I can have both, yet somehow I feel the second desire has crippled the first in many ways.

Now on to the stuff some of my readers will find weird- prophetic words.

Before we started the church, I felt in my heart the words “a book to build a church on” again and again the words came to me. So, I wrote a book. It has not built a church… yet.

After we moved to Charlottesville, we attended a CHOP (Charlottesville House of Prayer) meeting. They prayed over us and prophesied God would provide us a vehicle (which we didn’t need yet). Since that time, God provided us a trailer and truck for almost no cost, another truck for free, and a van for free. I guess that prophecy was spot on.

Another thing we were told that night is that the church will not look how we expect. We didn’t love that one. As we talked about it, all we kept coming back to was that we thought it would be like most church plants and that we would succeed (probably 250 to 300 people after a couple years). Well, two and a half years after opening our church doors, the prophecy is true. It doesn’t look like what we thought. We are a church that serves about 75 people.

They also said things about people being drawn to us because of our authenticity and some other stuff that has all been confirmed. God is pretty cool like that. However, that is also the reason I am feeling nervous, maybe even scared.

Last Thursday night, at our own prayer meeting (something we started a while back because I have strongly been feeling that the best thing we can do to build this church is ask for God’s help). It has been a crowd of three to five, and we topped the numbers at six last week. Anyway, my father-in-law (yes, two of the people in our super small prayer group are family members… we are totally doing an amazing job of drawing others) shared about God being a shelter in the storm, and he was saying it in a prophetic sense (too hard to explain… it just was). I can’t remember what else he said, but the sense was that it’s going to get a bit harder and God will be there in it.

Move on to this past Sunday. I was visiting my family in Central New York, and we went to my brother’s church. The sermon was so spot on for me. He was preaching from The Circle Maker, and he was teaching on praying hard. My spirit was stirred as he spoke of Elijah praying for rain, which was something God had told Elijah to do. He prayed and would check for rain, yet six times the rain didn’t come. He didn’t quit. He prayed through.

Look, let’s be honest here. God told us to plant a church, and we have had strong sense that was meant to have an impact on the community. However, we have done all we can do and followed all the advice, and nothing has worked. We are tired (see old posts). We are discouraged. We have lost people for reasons out of our control and others because they have lost the vision for the church (which I feel falls on us as the leaders). We were worshiping with over 100 people for a brief window, and now most Sundays we worship with somewhere between 55 and 65 people. Although I have felt a deep love for our church and peace about our direction in many ways for the last few months, I have also been ready to leave if there were a way out.

My fatigue is not with the church, but it is because of the church. One of the most draining aspects has been in our home. Jon and I have enmeshment issues. I hold on too tightly to his highs and lows and he does the same with me. #notthehealthiest, #workingonit, #weloveourcounselor. Anyway, being the leaders of a struggling church can impact our lives due to internal battles of calling and self worth. Look, it is hard. We are human; give us a break. We haven’t quit, and we aren’t going to quit. We are working to build this church until we run it into the ground or it grows. Either way, we are here… emotionally drained, but here.

God called us to this, he is in control, and we are going to work our butts off as we try to follow his leading. We might not get it right, but we are giving it everything we have.

Okay, is that enough vulnerability for one post? It might cause us to lose some folks because we aren’t the leaders they dreamed we are. That is the reality of living authentically. We refuse to put on a show in order to keep people. Some may think we should, but I am tired of leaders failing in huge, public, and shocking ways because they live their lives hiding their struggles in order to protect their churches. Their hiding has always done more damage than good, and I refuse to be another one of those stories. If, God forbid, I make a huge mistake, at least people will have known from day one that I’m just as human as everyone else and just as susceptible to failure. I’m way off track in my processing of the prophetic though….

After the Sunday service at my brother’s church, I went to the altar to ask for prayer. It was powerful, encouraging, and scary. The prayers confirmed that pull I have been feeling to invite God to have his way and to not be held back by my fear. The general sense of the words spoken over me were that we would be a church that looks different from what churches look like today, that I should embrace the prophetic anointing God has placed on me, and that there is still a hard season coming before we see a shift that will then start a movement…basically. Also, my Dad gave me this image of the Grand Canyon and how the water broke down the massive land and rock to create this thing of beauty and awe. He was talking about allowing God’s spirit to do the same in a hard place of ministry.

These prayers confirmed the leading I have been sensing. I have been feeling God calling me more and more into time with the Holy Spirit and to allow him to fill our church. My father-in-law had shared a month or two back that he sees a door being blocked when he prays for our church and our city. My bother’s prayer mentioned some doors also. Our city has had church plants come and go for years. It is a hard context.

Between my father-in-law’s prayer about a storm coming and God as a shelter and my brother’s word that we have another hard season ahead, I’m a bit scared… even though the word was that God would be with us and that it would be followed by a release of God’s move. I am Elijah pushing year three on this church and waiting for God’s presence to pour down from heaven. I am praying for Him to show us that our coming to this city in obedience will have a result.

I am sometimes mad at God as I pray for him to show up. I am mad that I have been faithful and sacrificial and willing to do what he has called me to and he hasn’t done what I thought he would. LOL…. I am laughing because I know how ridiculous my anger is. I have no right to it. I am mad because God didn’t do what I wanted when I wanted. I know how absurd it is. I know I am not justified in it. I feel it though. I am weary in my obedience, and I am a child stomping her foot because I didn’t get what I wanted by doing what God wanted.

I don’t have a point to all this yet. I am just trying to process it all. I feel myself on the edge. I am on the edge of a break down or a break through. I am knocking on heaven’s door with a new desperation. I am throwing my hands in the air for the thousandth time since we started this church to say, “I get it God. I can’t do it. It has to be you. So WHEN are you going to do it? Could you please make something change? Could you please change something besides me?”

And weirdly I have a sense that the point lies in that last request… change something besides me. I know he is changing me, and I can feel in me that the change will impact more than me. I know that he is saying I need to be one who will stop saying “Do it like me; I’m a success. You can be a success if you copy me.” I think our struggle is meant to demonstrate the success is 100% God. We are called to be faithful… end of story. He gets to do the rest.

I’m just scared of what another season of struggling and storm looks like,  (even though the point of the prophecy is to encourage me that God is present and in control in it all), and I can’t even picture what we will be when it is over.

If this post is the worst one you think I have written, that’s okay. I get it. This post isn’t really for you anyway. You are just peaking into my brain and my heart.

I’ve come to the end of trying to process and figure it all out.

God, take it all. Let your spirit come and move however you chose. Lead me. Use me. Fill me. Pour me out. 

Amen.

The Disillusioned Planter:

A Guide on What to Do When The Church Doesn’t Take Off After You Launch

  1. Introduction
  2. I. Am. So. Tired.
  3. Curveball
  4. Dear Church
  5. Prophetic?
CHURCH PLANTING

Running From the Old Woman

woman wearing black and white run printed pullover hoodie
Photo by EVG photos on Pexels.com

I’ve recently begun to train for a marathon. Don’t panic, the race is over six months from now. Also, let’s be realistic, I am not running a race. I am entering an event, which I plan to finish.

I am clearly a young, fit, strong, fast, insert other positive and healthy adjectives here, woman. Here is the deal though: every time I go running, only a chubby, old, slow, lady shows up. She is the same woman whom I see in glimpses as I pass my reflection in the grocery store windows or the security monitor.

At first, I didn’t recognize her. However, the more often I see her, the more familiar this strange woman becomes.

I’ve decided it might be time to contact the authorities because she has started to hold me hostage. No matter what I do, I can’t escape her. I can’t run enough to get away from her.

I try to avoid restaurants where I might see her, but I get a craving for Chick-Fil-A, and God knows that aging woman with a soft round belly is there. She is getting old, not stupid.

You would think I’d be able to get away since she is always tired. However, by the time I get through work, helping with homework, cleaning from dinner, and driving the kids all over, I realize I don’t have time or energy to do anything but meet her on the couch and snuggle right in with her.

I know age is just a state of mind, but someone should tell that to my body because she is pretty sure that I am pushing 40 when my mind is still hanging out in the late 20s. Good thing running is a mental sport.

If you see a slightly graying, chubby woman running at a “relaxed” pace, be sure to cheer loudly for her. Somewhere inside, trying really hard to come out, is a young woman ready to conquer the world one mile at a time.

PARENTING

If God is Good….

IFGODISGOOD.jpg

If God is good, why is there so much pain in the world?

Pain leading to philosophical questioning is not new. Epicurus, the Greek Philosopher from  around 341 B.C., is credited with saying:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

This question of “How can evil exist if God is good?” has been one of the number one reasons individuals lose faith in God or fail to embrace it to begin with. It is not an easy question, and it is one I struggled with in my own life by the time I was a junior in high school.

My Uncle Nate was a pastor in his 40s. He was married with 2 biological children, 5 adopted kids, and one foster child who they were in the process of adopting. He was in good health. He was like all humans, flawed, but clearly someone we would identify as a good man who was trying to follow God’s will in his life. This is why his sudden and unexplainable death came as a shock and began to rattle my faith. My uncle was playing basketball, and a collision with another player led him to fall and hit his head. Senseless and illogical loss.

Of course I began to wonder…..Where was God? Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t he supposed to be loving and powerful? Why God? Who are you? And with each new loss and each new heartache as I lost person after person in my life, the questions grew and my belief in God floundered for years.

And do you know, I still don’t have an answer to the why for the great majority of the losses? I can’t for the life of me see a greater good at work in the deaths of my uncle, my cousins, my infant nephew, or most the other losses. However, that does not mean there isn’t one. And this is where we come to the issue of faith concerning the existence of evil.

Because if God is good, why is there so much pain in this world? This is the question we ask not because we care deeply about philosophy, but because we are wounded people. The loss and the pain WE feel is overwhelming and we cannot make sense of it. What recourse do we have other than to look to God and ask him why he didn’t stop it. Why didn’t he or why won’t he intervene?

We are all willing to accept the existence of evil and pain from an omniscient (all knowing), Omnipotent (all powerful), and omnibenevolent (all-loving) God if we believe that in his infinite knowledge, power, and love he allows or initiates actions that are painful as long as they lead to a greater good. The struggle comes when we just can’t see that greater good. We assume that if we cannot see it, it does not exist. And thus we have a crisis of faith.

Either Way, It Takes Faith

Just as it takes as much faith to believe we have a purposeful creator as it does to believe the earth and everything in it is a result of a chance collision of just the right particles at the right time in the right environment, the problem of evil hangs on where we decide to put our faith.

In The Reason For God, Timothy Keller says, “Just because you can’t see or imagine a Good reason why God might allow something doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties.”

We can put our faith in own abilities to conceptualize the universe and all its workings or in God, the creator of the universe.

Lessons from Joseph

I want to take a moment to look at the story of Joseph as we address this because Joseph’s story reminds us of  two things about pain. The first is that pain is often a result of free will and the other is that pain does have a purpose, even when we can’t see it.

In God’s loving nature, he gave us the ability to choose, but this ability is one of the greatest causes of pain in the world. Humans infinitely damage and wound one another. So, why would God give us this choice? If you think we would have been better off without free choice, read every dystopian novel ever written and you will see that humans, in our heart of hearts, desire freedom and choice over perfection. God loves us enough to allow us to live life fully, not as robots programmed to perfection. The all-loving God has to be all powerful and all knowing in order to create us with choice yet still have the ability to work everything out for the greatest good of humanity.

Let’s get to Joseph to see this play out and address the question of faith in our reasoning vs. faith in God’s omniscience.

Joseph’s jealous brothers threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. Potiphar’s wife’s wounded ego and deceit led to Joseph being thrown into prison. You guys, if I am Joseph right now, I am 100% questioning where God is. Joseph is working his butt off and faithfully serving God, and the actions of others are leading him to situations where he could only feel hurt and betrayed. If you think Joseph knew how it would all play out, you are wrong. He did not know. There is no way he could see how God would use the pit and the prison to take him to the palace, and there is nothing in scripture to indicate he had any idea how it would all play out. He only had a dream from years before that his family would bow to him. Who knows if he still thought of that dream as something that would happen, but I guarantee he didn’t know his time in the prison would be the thing that needed to happen in order for that initial dream to come true. I would imagine the prison felt like… well, prison. If Joseph had put his faith in his own cognitive faculties, he wouldn’t have foreseen the good God was orchestrating and he might  have concluded that either God did not exist, was not good, or was not powerful.

It is only our knowledge of the full story after it has played out that rationalizes Joseph’s belief in a God that has it all under control and is working everything together for good. In God’s love, power, and knowledge the free will of those harming Joseph actually brought Joseph to a place where he had the ability to preserve an entire nation. He had to be in the prison to interpret the dreams of the other prisoners, and he had to be used then forgotten by those same prisoners until the right time. I’m sorry but by the time he was sitting in that cell for years, I’m sure he was not saying, “Well, any day now, God is going to make me the second most powerful man in Egypt that is why I am here.” No, he didn’t know that. He just knew to trust God no matter the outcome. He had to put his faith in a God that knows more than we can know. He had to put his faith in God’s ability to see the good instead of his own ability to see the good.

Just because we can’t see the good doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Believing our inability to see the good means there is no good puts more faith in our ability to conceptualize the universe and all its workings than in God, the creator of the universe.

Job and Immanuel

Although we don’t see Joseph questioning God, we do have a great example of questioning in the book of Job. When Job was suffering, not due to the effects of free will, but for reasons we are humanly incapable of explaining, he questioned God. He wanted to to know a reason so that maybe he could understand the purpose and accept it. He had lost everything. His family, his wealth, and his physical well being. He had nothing left, and this is how God answers him:

Job 38 

38 Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

2 “Who is this that questions my wisdom

   with such ignorant words?

3 Brace yourself like a man,

   because I have some questions for you,

   and you must answer them.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

   Tell me, if you know so much.

5 Who determined its dimensions

   and stretched out the surveying line?

6 What supports its foundations,

   and who laid its cornerstone

7 as the morning stars sang together

   and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

8 “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries

   as it burst from the womb,

9 and as I clothed it with clouds

   and wrapped it in thick darkness?

10 For I locked it behind barred gates,

   limiting its shores.

11 I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.

   Here your proud waves must stop!’

And God continues in this way for a couple chapters, listing a fraction of the things he has created and controls, and he questions Job’s frequently with the “did you?” question. God is pointing out to Job that maybe, just possibly, He, God the creator and master of everything knows something Job does not and could not possibly understand.

Finally, Job answers with this:

Job 42 

42 Then Job replied to the Lord:

2 “I know that you can do anything,

   and no one can stop you.

3 You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’

   It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,

   things far too wonderful for me.

4 You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!

   I have some questions for you,

   and you must answer them.’

5 I had only heard about you before,

   but now I have seen you with my own eyes.

6 I take back everything I said,

   and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

God doesn’t try to explain to Job the manner in which everything in Job’s life will work out or the purpose behind Job’s suffering. Instead he shows up and he reminds him that he is working in ways that man can never understand. Why does this console Job? Because God showed up. Which leads me to the second and most important point in our problem of pain. God is not cold, disconnected, and unloving. He is Immanuel, God with us. His power and his knowledge do not make him malevolent as Epicurus proposes. If he were malevolent, he would not have given up everything just to walk with us.

Jesus, who was one with God and the Holy Spirit, left his place in heaven with a twofold purpose- to walk among us and to make a way to undo all the pain and evil our free will creates and deserves. Jesus’ life exemplifies God’s deep compassion for us and his presence with us in the hurt, and his death and resurrection provides us the hope of the coming day when all things will be made new.

Jesus Wept 

The shortest verse in scripture is one of the most beautiful and theologically profound. John 11:45 says, “Jesus Wept.”

In Chapter 11, where we find this verse, Jesus is informed that his friend Lazarus is ill, and it says that he does not go to him because Lazarus’ sickness happened for the glory of God. What comes next in the text is a line that defines our suffering, in vs. 5 it says,  “ So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days.”

He knew what would happen if he waited. He knew Lazarus would die, he knew he would raise him again, and that this action would cause more people to believe him and spur the pharisees to decide to kill him. After Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, the text says “so from that time on the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.” He knew everything that needed to and that would unfold. He knew the bigger picture and how the plan had to unfold, but he also knew how his friends would hurt. This is why it says, Although he loved them, he waited.

He waited because Lazarus had to die to be resurrected. He had to be resurrected to give people something to reference back to when their faith and hope  in the resurrection might begin to fade. They could say, yes, but do you remember Lazarus. Do you remember how God took what was dead and gave it life? Do you remember the joy of regaining what was lost?

That is what God is going to do for us because he is in the resurrection business. He resurrected Lazarus, then he took our sin and our shame to the cross in order to pay the price for all the damage that is done in our free will, and he went to the grave to show that although death has its season, his victory is eternal and nothing will be wasted- not a moment of pain and sorrow. He will restore it all, and our rejoicing will be greater after having experienced the loss first.

But even with all this knowledge in mind, we need to stop and look back to that one tiny verse. It is a verse that can easily get lost in it all, yet it signifies so much. Jesus wept. He knew the victory was coming. He knew his friends’ grief was about to end, yet he wept. He wept when he saw the tears and the sorrow of Mary and the other mourners. He wept for the hurt and the heartache. He wept with them. God is gracious and compassionate. He is present beside you as you walk through the seasons where you cannot see the good. He does not look on from a distance and expect you to just soldier on just because he knows the victory that is coming. No. He weeps.

Hope in the Resurrection

The pain of living is massive and widespread. There are tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes that kill thousands. There are genocides, mass shootings, and drive-bys. However, the pain is also intimate and personal as cancer fills the lungs, the breast, the liver, and the body. We are cheated, abused, discriminated against, or abandoned. There are unfulfilled dreams, lost children, and bouts with depression. The list of intimate and personal pain faced by individuals sitting right here could go on and on. This pain, not the distant observance of the grief of others, but the pain we face with such acute intensity is the pain that leads us to cry, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

And suddenly the echo of the cross cries across the centuries. And our answer to the pain of the world is found in the ancient texts as God answers Job’s question of “Why?” but not in the way we would expect or hope. He answers with his presence, and we see the answer lived out as Jesus weeps while he approaches Lazarus’s tomb, and it is here that we really begin to understand the work of the resurrection- the voice of God speaking into the tomb and demanding life to come forth.

It is the mystery that we can’t begin to fully understand or fathom. It is beyond our understanding, yet we have been given the almighty to walk with us and his spirit to comfort us even though he knows he is about to make it all new. Even though he knows that the brokenness is only temporary yet necessary, he weeps with us and for us, and as Jesus cries out the words we utter in anguish, “Why God?” he shows us on the cross that his brokenness and his resurrection are just the beginning of making everything right, and we will understand someday. For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face we will know that it was all worth it in a way we could not have understood without the pain and loss and grief. The joy of the victory is all the sweeter after tasting the despair of loss.

We may not be able to see how what we are experiencing is part of the bigger plan and being used for good, but we do know how the story will end. Revelation 21:5 from The Message Translation says,

3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

Pain does not disprove the existence of God. Our connection to an an all knowing, all powerful, and loving God is made deeper and richer through it as he shows us that even though we may not understand it, he has a plan, and he is walking with us until we get to see the restoration of all things.

CHURCH PLANTING

Dear Church

cathedral under clouds near leafless tree
Photo by David Kovacs on Pexels.com

Dear Church,

Sunday was awesome! We had 76 people at the morning service and 20 at the discussion dinner. I am so excited about what God is doing.

Recently there have been answered prayers, new connections, and moments of great encouragement.

Don’t think I am the eternal optimist though. New churches are full of highs and lows, but God is always faithful. Sunday, September 9th was our lowest attendance since we started. I was discouraged to say the least, and I began to fear that we might not able to sustain this church much longer due to finances. I asked friends from our parent church, my family, and fellow church planting women to pray for Redemption Church.

Our bank account didn’t have enough in it to cover rent at the end of August, but it was the last month of our lease, and we had paid first and last month at signing. (We have renewed the lease without an increase in the rental cost.) We had a small cushion in our account thanks to not having to pay for August, and one member made an extra donation from unexpected income. I was hopeful that things would turn around. However, the week we had 34 in attendance, we also only brought in $370. We need an average of $2,000 a week.  I was further discouraged after investing $500 of my own money on social media marketing for the new series that was starting this Sunday because the forecast called for severe flooding. The schools were talking about canceling everything for Thursday, Friday, and the weekend.

Frankly, I was mad at God. Why did he call us here to fail? We had done all we could, and he had the power to make it work, but he was sending a hurricane instead. I knew I was being a toddler, but I couldn’t shake it. So… I called my mom. LOL My parents tried to encourage me, but I was being a “realist.” They called me later to remind me of Jesus healing the paralytic because of the faith of his friends. My response, “Okay, you guys go ahead and have faith enough for me.”

Now for the good stuff:

1. The storm never hit our city. There were 76 people in church on Sunday morning and 20 came to our Sunday night discussion group. Three of the four families I invited to come (and I was honest with them that I was discouraged and having my friends there would help lift my spirit) joined us for service. One of them told me she needed to be there more than I needed her to be there.
Three of the other guests were my foster son’s friends because the house rule is that if you sleep over on Saturday night you come to church with us Sunday morning. God is doing a work in their lives. One of them made a decision to serve Christ at youth group a few weeks ago.
I was so thankful to God for Sunday. It was the encouragement I needed in order to know that God has not decided to let us fail.

2. This morning I entered the church office to record the giving and make the deposit. As soon as I looked at the offering count from our ushers, I wept. I was so overcome with gratitude (and relief). The total was about $4,390, which combines with last Sunday to bring us up to a little more than we need to average to meet our monthly expenses. God was putting the icing on the cake for me. He was letting me know that he will take care of every detail.

I wanted to share this with you all as we work through the Skeptical Series. I want you to know that we all have doubts and fears, but God doesn’t stop being God just because we have questions or allow fear to enter our hearts. He is faithful, and he has a plan.

Thank you for walking this journey with us. We pray for you, and we thank God for you. I know that he is actively working things together for your good, even when we can’t see it. We know that in all the ups and downs, God will be faithful to build his church.

Pastor Jon and I love you and appreciate you. We are so blessed to do this with you. Take courage, praise God, and bring a friend who might be struggling to see God’s presence or questioning him.

All my love in Christ,

Pastor Rebecca

This is part of my new church planting book. I am posting as I go, so please feel free to follow along. Click the section titles below to read along:

The Disillusioned Planter:

A Guide on What to Do When The Church Doesn’t Take Off After You Launch

  1. Introduction
  2. I. Am. So. Tired.
  3. Curveball
  4. Dear Church
CHURCH PLANTING

Curveball

cathedral under clouds near leafless tree
Photo by David Kovacs on Pexels.com

You guys are probably like, “Great, here she is again to talk about how reality and expectations haven’t lined up, how she is worn out, or something like that.”

Nope. Curveball. I’m breaking punctuation rules this time to share a WIN.

That’s right, even the disillusioned planter has a win from time to time. What do you think keeps me in it? It’s not my sheer willpower and awesomeness (sorry to disappoint if you thought it was).

Paying bills is generally a rollercoaster experience. My husband and I decide we are the worst leadership ever because it doesn’t look like there will be enough money to cover the church expenses; then we ride high on relief when, somehow, God provides just enough to pay the next bill.

This past month was no different. Jon recently started a full-time job outside the church to help alleviate the strain on the church budget, and we were hoping this would leave us some wiggle room for building beautification, new print materials, and maybe even some marketing.

As I balanced our account numbers and wrote checks to pay bills, I noted that even after cutting the pastoral salary in half, we were $500 short for rent, which was due at the end of the week. In a somewhat rare faith moment, I decided to write the check and address the envelope. I figured the money has always come in. I’d just drop the check in the mail on Friday after the funds arrived.

I opened the lease to copy the bank address onto the envelope, and I realized that it was our last month of rent on the current lease. Churches had burned the landlord before, so he had required a deposit, first month’s rent, and last month’s rent at the time of signing. The month was already covered!

We went from being a $500 short to having enough money to pay back some of the money we had borrowed from a parent church and to put some aside in case things are tight again next month. In the same week, we also had a member offer to pay for the supplies to paint the exterior of the building and a new sign.

Finances are my biggest faith stretcher. I want to throw in the towel every time the numbers are scary. However, my faith is increased as God provides again and again.

Yes, we had to cut our salary, but God provided our family with a beautiful, well soon to be beautiful, foreclosed house to renovate when our the lease of our home came to an end. Jon was able to find a job that allowed me to switch to part-time at the school in order to take care of the office work at the church. I’ve also been blessed to take on some consistent, paid writing gigs.

God is faithful.

We don’t always understand the process, but the result is unchanging. God provides all we need. I guess I’ll do this whole church planting thing one more day.

This is part of my new church planting book. I am posting as I go, so please feel free to follow along. Click the section titles below to read along:

The Disillusioned Planter:

A Guide on What to Do When The Church Doesn’t Take Off After You Launch

  1. Introduction
  2. I. Am. So. Tired.
  3. Curveball
  4. Dear Church
CHURCH PLANTING
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