Your Hurt – God's Opportunity

This world isn’t perfect. I think we can all agree on that.

There is hurt and suffering all around us. Living in South Africa it is apparent to me on a daily basis. Every day I am approached by children with torn clothes and no shoes asking for food – not even money. The sad reality is that the suffering is all around us.

Sadder still is the nonchalance of the elite in society. The South African President, Jacob Zuma, had improvements on his personal home done at the taxpayers expense, something that caused short term outrage. But it hasn’t been mentioned for several months in a major story by the state-run news media. Nobody wants to rock the boat.

If the money, several hundred million Rands (tens of millions of dollars) had been used to help the truly needy it could have provided shelter for thousands of child-headed homes, or education for the poorest children, food for the homeless. The list is endless.

Now I’m not writing a political blog, and whilst I despise the corruption in the power circles and cronies that goes on here it’s not my point.

We have an opportunity as Christians to let God help when we hurt or see another person hurt.

Our pain we feel when we see injustice, avarice, greed, nepotism and apathy from the “leaders” whether they be in South Africa, England, Canada, USA or wherever gives us a glimpse of God’s heart for the broken. If we let Him, He can turn our hurt into an opportunity for His goodnss to be shown.

I love the story of Joseph in the Bible. Reading and re-reading it I have yet to find any point where he is “disciplined” by God in some way. God gives him a dream so he shares it and his brothers throw him into a pit and sell him as a slave. Once a slave, God Blesses him incredibly and he faithfully serves God first, then Potiphar. To avoid dishonouring God he refuses to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife. She accuses him of attempted rape and he is thrown into prison. Again, God Blesses him in prison and he virtually ends up running the place. He interprets two dreams of two other prisoners, one of whom is subsequently restored and the other executed just as Joseph had interpreted. The restored man forgets about him for some time until Pharaoh has a dream his wizards can’t explain. Then the former prisoner remembers. In a single day Joseph is then catapulted from imprisoned slave to second in power only to Pharaoh himself in Egypt – the modern equivalent would be a death row inmate made vice-President after talking to the President once.

Joseph must have hurt when his family betrayed him, but he saw God could turn it around – it was an opportunity.

When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and falsely accused him it would be easy to despair, but not Joseph. He kept hold of God’s promise in a dream so many years before and waited for its fullness to come.

He could have let hurt overwhelm him when he was forgotten by his cell-mate. He didn’t.

He held fast to his vision. It gave him hope. His hurt allowed God to use it as an opportunity to ultimately save many lives.

His hurt became God’s opportunity.

Look at your own life. Consider the pain you’ve been through, but remember the promises God has given you.

Part of my testimony is that when I was sixteen I felt God inspire me to pray for my children. I’m now in my forties and married, but no kids yet. Over 25 years later I hold onto the promise. It doesn’t remove the hurt of being childless at this point, but I trust it will change. (Soon I hope!)

Another part was that I would preach and teach in many nations. To date this blog has reached over 20 separate countries. Many of those I hope to visit one day.

I’ve had much hurt in my life. My brother was killed in a terrible road accident 30 years ago. But from the hurt of that loss God was able to break into my life in a new way and I was Born Again. My dad died of Glioblastoma – brain cancer. It affected his daily functioning and he died by inches over four months. I had just moved church at the time and God used my hurt to surround me with more love and care than I’d ever have believed possible.

There’s more, but another time.

Every hurt I’ve experienced has allowed me to find an opportunity to either draw closer to God or reject Him. Rejecting has never been an option for me. I looked briefly at other religions before I was found by Jesus. I found only dead gods demanding sacrifices and rituals. Wash before you pray and don’t touch a member of the opposite sex or you have to wash again before you’re “clean” enough to come to their “god”. I prefer Jesus’s concept of “come as you are – I’ll fix you” He demonstrates in the Gospels and Paul and the other writers extol in the remainder of the New Testament.

Hurt becomes opportunity for God to do something wonderful. He even gives it to us in nature as an example. A couple of months ago a terrible fire destroyed much of the mountain near my home, but from the ashes of the fire the Protea plants shoot new growth. Their beauty is only released after a fire burns off the dross and allows the new to come forth.

We are no different.

Just as the fire gave God an opportunity to demonstrate His beauty in nature’s rejuvenation, so our hurts, physical and emotional, give Him a chance to demonstrate His power in our lives.

Hurt drives my family at the moment to seek answers. We have a business that is growing in Cape Town, but we have offers from overseas as well. There is the potential to follow both courses, run the business from overseas and have a manager take the day-to-day running of things. Or we could reject either of the two, stay or leave. We’re praying to see which is God’s opportunity for us. Whatever it is, we’ll grasp it with both hands.

Our hurts are deeply personal and right now I don’t want to go into details. Suffice to say the decision is quite literally a life-or-death one and we need to hear His voice clearly.

Hurts become opportunities, but we must take them.

They may not come again.

Lean on the Cross

A good friend of mine for over 15 years wrote to me recently. I knew him through church. He comforted me and guided me spiritually through the death of my dad in 1999, a very l0ng-distance courtship with my then fiancee (now my wife) when we were apart with me in England and her in South Africa and dozens more things, all guided by the wisdom of Faith and relationship with Christ.

He’s lost his faith. His situation changed and much of what had kept him close to Jesus was stripped away. His family moved to a new town where their new church ostracized them for no reason other than his health. The very people who should have been supporting him and his family pushed them away. His marriage ended in divorce and his health continued to fail.

Society offered him solutions. Grants, medical assistance, psychologists and most of all, unconditional, non-judgemental support for his situation. He was allowed to begin to recover in his own time as he was able to face the issues haunting him supported not by Christians, but by the World.

His rational and well thought through decision has been to turn his back on Christ. He tells me – with great sadness for me to hear – that he no longer believes in Jesus, that Christianity was merely a crutch, one he no longer needs.

How has the church allowed this to happen? This dear friend, at one point closer to me than even my own family, was chased away from Christ by people claiming to be Christian.

I knew another man. He was a boy then, but has matured. Thankfully. He told everyone he could about Jesus. He was a real “you’re all going to hell, directly to hell, do not pass ‘go’ do not collect $200” kind of evangelist in the way he talked to people. In parts of Africa where I now live, there is a real concept of Hell as a literal place. Many people live in a physical and spiritual wilderness and that kind of wake-up call works very effectively. Not so much in the South of England. His growing has made him an effective speaker of the Truth and he reaches people effectively and compassionately. He demonstrates Christ instead of ramming Him down people’s throats. And people are drawn to this.

I met a minister from America a few years ago named Dave Duell. He is the most wonderful, down-to-earth man it’s been my pleasure to meet. It was a privilege to sit with him and chat not just about Jesus directly, but life and living, the reality of hardship and the way God can turn situations around. When we met I didn’t know who he was or what his life had been like to that point. I didn’t find out until the following day that he was the Keynote speaker at the conference! He simply saw a clumsy young man trip over a guide rope for the meeting tent and went to help him up. This same man preached the Gospel to Yasser Arafat. He speaks to world leaders fearlessly about Jesus and he speaks to little children exactly the same.

The best teachers I have ever heard have all said the same thing. The Cross is a crutch. We are broken and need to lean on it. My friend I first mentioned used to remind me of this when I was so broken over losing my dad, my first fiancee and a very good job within the space of five months in 1999. He was failed by the Church.

No.

He was failed by those leaders in the church who should have offered support and guidance the way he had to me. The way we are called by Christ to do. The way he did to me. His help, among others, rebuilt a shattered Christian back into a fierce and passionate Warrior for Christ, and I grieve for a fallen soldier and pray he find his path again.

We are all cripples. The issues I battled with in 1999 are still in my life. I battle them every day and more. My life in 2014 included cancer of not one but two family members, financial struggle and continuing to try to help my wife through a life-threatening illness, currently in remission, but one we know will ultimately claim her physical life. Every day is a battle. Every hour a struggle. Every moment I am reminded I do not have the strength to do this alone.

So I lean on the cross.

We are invited by Jesus to do so. He became like us so we could become like Him.

John Eldridge’s amazing book “Waking the Dead” puts it like this:

“The story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it.”

My life has been a battlefield since I became a Christian at the age of 13. There has been death, illness, persecution on a physical and mental level – as much as you get in the developed world, anyway. I have suffered rejection and had many, many chances to walk away from Christ. Each of these causes me to cling to Him tighter now, although at first I was tempted to let go as it would be “easier”.

Walk with a crutch. The Crutch of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It will never fail you, never break under the load, and support you in ways you never dreamed possible.

I’m a cripple, and I’m proud of it.

It gives me a chance to show what God can do with a weak and flawed human life.

I’ll keep my crutch, thanks World. It’s all I need.

Orthodox beliefs or Orthopraxy – works?

I recently have read several arguments regarding the importance of orthopraxy – living a behaviourally “right” life – over orthodoxy – living a doctrinally correct life.

Don’t misunderstand me here. Our behaviour is vitally important in our walk with Christ. Faith, James tells us, requires works to demonstrate it. Even Satan believes in God – he has faith God exists.

A morally “good” existence is not enough. To be enough we need to look at the reason for the orthopraxy. What underscores the behaviour? Ghandi lived a morally “good” life. But his actions alone are insufficient. We are all fallen beings, and no matter how much good we try to do in this world we can never overcome the fact we were born into an inheritance of death. Adam’s bloodline was stained with Adam’s sin against God. We were separated from God because of that. Sin is in us all and no amount of good deeds, saving the whales or only eating vegetables will overcome that. Even ensuring an end to conflict and eradicating poverty would be insufficient.

That was the point of Jesus.

I follow a group on Facebook called “Kissing Fish”. It is a page advocating “Progressive” Christian concepts. I disagree philosophically with many of the arguments put forward there, but there is wisdom included in the writing that cannot be ignored. While recently the page featured an article about a question fundamentalists cannot answer – that being “Why would God care more about what we believe about God than how we live for God?” I felt compelled as – for want of a better term to describe myself, and I am open to suggestions – a “fundamentalist” Christian offer an answer.
I won’t repeat everything I wrote here – the page is open to view on facebook – but basically it boils down to this: the argument offered was that right actions are more important than right beliefs. I have to disagree.

Right actions in God’s work through us are born from right beliefs. Every change in the Bible from Old Testament including David’s repentance over murder through the salvation of Zaccheus and Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road involved a fundamental change in the belief – the orthodoxy – of the individual which then led to repentance in it’s fullest form and a total change of behaviour.

Our actions, like our speech, comes from the fullness of our heart. If we ask in the Holy Spirit and allow Him to fill our heart then our actions will be the resulting Godly action – although admittedly it’s a lot harder than it sounds. I ask God in but still harbour ill feeling towards my next-door neighbour for his intolerance of aspects of my situation, namely my dogs barking. It seems small, and it is petty, but it gets in the way of being full of God and being able to reach out to him in a Christ-like manner. On a bigger scale the abuser of a friend’s child goes on trial in a few weeks and my anger toward the individual for their actions burns fiercely. So fiercely I don’t know if it’s anger with the man – ungodly anger – or over the action. God’s anger against the abuse of an innocent child cannot be denied – His anger at the action that is. Yet He will still offer forgiveness and acceptance if this perpetrator truly repents and accepts Jesus. The question is whether we are able to. It’s a very personal question for me, and one I struggle to answer. Right now I find I cannot forgive the action and I am unable to separate the sin from the sinner in my heart. That action, although internal, separates me from God in that area and allows a foothold for our enemy in my life.

My belief that I need to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me and the people I love comes from the Christ Paradigm that entered my heart when I accepted Jesus nearly 30 years ago. My ability to live this paradigm fluctuates. And it fluctuates in huge waves.

Oddly, I find it easier (usually) to forgive those who have wronged me directly than those who have betrayed and hurt the people I love. My paradigm is still one that seeks to exact revenge on the wrongdoer rather than forgive and let God handle it. It’s a stronghold in my heart that needs to change.

As a writer who is not afraid to speak out against false religion like Islam I sympathise with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo killings in France. I will not be silenced, but neither will I declare “Je Suis Charlie” because I am not. I don’t seek to make fun of another person’s religion, simply to try to demonstrate through my words and actions that they are mistaken in their beliefs. To this end I will use satire, humour, sarcasm and even self-deprecation to get the message of the Gospel across. There is no more important role that Jesus has given us than to be ambassadors of His Name.

How we go about changing the world begins with a change in ourselves. I’ve talked a bit about me in this article, my struggles, my beliefs and my paradigms. Some of them match the orthodoxy beliefs I want to live by. Some are a work in progress. But in any area, before we can demonstrate orthorpraxy, our orthodoxy, the core of what we believe that fuels our actions, needs to be correct.

Faith without works is dead.

Works without Faith is pointless.

Check your paradigm – and do it regularly.