Life is hard… but God is good

By Sarah Shuey

I am mildly OCD when it comes to my schedule, planning, and organizing my life in to nice, neat categories (key word being mild…). When Doug’s dad had a stroke a few weeks ago, we were left with uncertainty, unanswered questions, and the inability to plan for the near future. Not only was I struggling with emotions of grief and sadness over his health and suffering, I was thrust into this land of limbo and waiting, which is not something I handled very gracefully. Needless to say, we as a family, were all in this place of longing for answers. These weeks were brutal and just downright hard. There is no better way to put it. It was hard. One of the hardest things I have ever been through. One of the hardest things we have ever been through.

I struggled. I struggled living one day at a time. I had students ask me what we were doing the next day, people asking if I could come to a rehearsal, and meetings I needed to schedule. To each request I had to leave a giant question mark since I had no idea if I would be here or if I would need to be in Ohio that day. I struggled with what to pray. What do I say? What do we need? What is best for Carl? How do I help my husband through this? What is God’s plan? As I was sitting in the Columbus airport waiting for a flight home leaving Doug behind with his family, I was reminded of this song by Casting Crowns from several years ago. The chorus proclaims:

I’ll praise You in this stormBeautiful sunset
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

Despite our grief, our questions, our uncertainties, our unknowns, here is what I came to realize: Life is hard but God is good. He is still worthy of all our praise. He still loves us and cares for us. He hears all our prayers. Even those prayers that we cannot put into words. There were so many times in the past few weeks that all I said was “God…” and just sat in silence knowing that he was holding me. Holding us and guiding us through all the trials and tears. Despite Carl’s prognosis, we rested in the comfort that soon he would be healed, restored, and perfect again. His faith was strong as evidenced by the faith of his children. He would be with Jesus and in a much better place than we could ever hope to provide for him here on this earth. A friend reminded me of that fact this past week, which brought me such comfort and strength. Through this, I learned just how many people are in our corner, how many people care, and just how powerful prayer can be even when the outcome is not quite what we originally hoped.

On the morning of March 20th, 15 days after Carl’s stroke, our prayers of healing were answered. While his family was in church for the first time since this journey started, worshiping and being encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ, Carl was received in to the open arms of Jesus. As Dr. Carriker said in his sermon that morning, God does not make all new things. He makes all things new. Carl is healed, restored, and brand new in his body, praising Jesus. And while we grieve and mourn his loss here, we know that he is in a much better place and we know, without a doubt, that God is good. He will give us His peace, love, and strength as we go through this time. Praise God we have the promise of forever!


Toxic Christianity

By Dr. Mel Sensenig

I started watching a TV series this month that featured a rather stock Hollywood character, the crazy preacher threatening judgment on everyone in his small Midwestern town. This particular preacher sometimes even received messages from God through his defective hearing aid. It made me laugh – and it also made me think about how our spirituality is perceived by outsiders.

AdobeStock_41558737 [Converted]The caricatures that we see on TV of crazy religious people doing crazy things in the name of God is not just part of Hollywood’s so called war on religion. One can only make a caricature of something that actually exists. Toxic Christianity is a problem that has existed all throughout the church. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther, said, “…how are we to flee the world? Not by donning caps and creeping into a corner or going into the wilderness. You cannot so escape the devil and sin. Satan will as easily find you in the wilderness in a gray cap as he will in the market in a red coat. It is the heart which must flee, and that by keeping itself “unspotted from the world,” as James 1:27 says.” James was responding to a problem in the first century church. In fact, the Greek word for “religious” in James 1:26 refers to any kind of religious activity such as attendance at services, fasting, etc., in any religion. James also says in 1:26 that religion can be empty, or worthless. It’s a strong word, and is the same word used it to describe Israel’s idolatry for which the Lord eventually sent them into exile.

This reminded me again powerfully that there is such a thing as bad religion, and it can even be worse than no religion because it feeds our innate self-righteousness and leads us away from our total dependence upon Christ. In fact, Jonathan Edwards, the well-known Puritan preacher, said, “… the Scripture never uses such emphatical expressions concerning any other signs of hypocrisy, and unsoundness of heart, as concerning an unholy practice [of religion].” It’s astounding to think that there could be such a thing as an “unholy” expression of Christianity! But that is the testimony of Scripture and some of the church’s best teachers throughout the ages.

It makes me long for the pure, spotless religion that James describes and that the world respects: an accurate knowledge of my own spirituality, both its strengths and weaknesses, sincerity, peaceableness, care for the poor and the oppressed, all of which come, James says, from the new creation work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any other source is just bad religion!


As We Begin the Lenten Season

From Pam Bush

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15.

In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms (Mere Christianity, 59)

As we enter the season of Lent, we hear the hard words of Jesus calling us to repentance. C.S. Lewis teaches us that repentance involves surrender, laying down our arms, saying we’re sorry, and Jesus teaches us that, following repentance, we will find good news, which he invites us to believe. We need both. We need to acknowledge that rebellion inhabits our own hearts, and we need to know that God loves us enough not to leave us in our rebellion. We need to know that God desires our entire lives to be lives of repentance. cslewis-pipe2

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis called his early rebellion against God the desire not to be interfered with; he wanted to call his soul his own. In repentance, we learn that we belong to Someone else, Someone who created us, certainly, but especially Someone who redeemed us. The light at the end of the tunnel of repentance is the glorious grace of God and forgiveness won by Jesus.

Heavenly Father, by my sins I have rebelled against your Word and will. For the sake of Jesus, forgive me. Amen.

Excerpted from Mercy, Passion & Joy – Reflections on the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Dr. Joel Heck

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