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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’


The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

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Tim Keller’s latest book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering didn’t quite begin as I anticipated. I’m not sure why I had the anticipations I had, particularly since I’ve read most of his books.

Tim doesn’t just write for the choir. He anticipates that non-Christians will read his books (what a wonderful thing!). As a result, this book begins with examining how past societies have handled pain and suffering, and why our particular society (speaking of the Western world) has struggled to deal with pain and suffering. In other words, he starts with a good does of apologetics.

His point is that secularization has diminished our capacity to deal with pain and suffering (okay, PaS). In the past, societies were influenced by their religious (and philosophical) views and looked at PaS in context with them. What they experienced, they believed, had a point though they differed on what that point actually was.

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It has been crazy busy around here this Fall. In addition to normal pastoral duties I’ve been running a New Members’ Class and Officer Training on Saturdays. This means that the Session has to spend time interviewing new members, and soon will examine officer candidates. As a Session we’ve finally finished our revised By Laws and new Manual of Procedure (I can really hate trellis work), and we are getting ready to present a Master Site plan and “Bridge” Plan to renovate and expand our current facilities. Our music director took an unexpected leave of absence for a month so I had to provide additional leadership to our music ministry. There were also a few unexpected “crisis” that ate up time and energy. You know they will happen, but you don’t know when and they seem to come in bunches.

As if that wasn’t enough, in addition to normal Dad and Husband duties, two kids and CavWife had surgery this Fall. We had family in town for about 2 weeks and missionaries stayed with us back in September. I’ve also been editing a book in the hopes of publishing. Part of that has included some structural changes in chapters.

So obviously I should read Kevin DeYoung’s latest book Crazy Busy. Just makes sense, right?

Absolutely! The subtitle is A Mercifully Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem. The book really is short- 117 smallish sized pages that make it easy to  read in short blocks of time.

“If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy.”

In terms of material he covers, I’ll start with the end. He admits that we should be busy because God has given us plenty to do to fulfill our calling. The problem is not being busy, but often we are busy with the wrong things. As a result we are often unproductive. This is not a call to the life of leisure, but wisdom: choosing the best instead of the good or the not-so-good. The reason we in the West tend to suffer, so to speak, in our busyness is that we don’t expect to be busy (and suffer) in addition to an unwillingness to make difficult choices.

“Paul had pressure. You have pressure too. But God can handle the pressure. Do not be surprised when you face crazy weeks of all kinds. And do not be surprised when God sustains you in the midst of them.”

Kevin writes the book from the perspective of a man who struggles with busyness. He is crazy busy himself and much of what he writes is what he is trying to implement. He hasn’t arrived at the perfect point of balance in his life. He is not making promises either as if he’s offering a 7-step plan to achieve bliss.

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We’ve had a number of events recently that have shaken many Americans to the core. The reality of evil was pressed home in painful fashion. Sadly, most Americans aren’t prepared to face the reality of evil. If people are considered basically good, then we essentially think such things should not happen here where we are educated and prosperous. Those things only happen there, wherever there may be. But not to us, not on our shores.

There are a number of books that have tried to tackle this problem. Some good. Some bland. And some quite horrible, like the sadly popular book by Rabbi Kushner about the God who wants to help but really can’t. He also assumes there are good people.

“To come to grips with the problem of evil and suffering, you must do more than hear heart-wrenching stories about suffering people. You must hear God’s truth to help you interpret those stories.”

Randy Alcorn has released The Goodness of God: Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of Suffering for this reason. It is a shorter version (120 pages) of his book If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering. It makes a readable, meaningful book that you can hand out to people who are suffering, or struggling with the suffering of others. He covers lots of ground in succinct fashion, including illustrations and examples to help people understand his point. It is not dry and academic. He writes of his own suffering and how he had to make sense of it. He believes any faith that doesn’t prepare you for suffering is not a biblical faith, and our churches must do a better job teaching biblical theology to prepare people for suffering.

“The pain of suffering points to something deeply and unacceptably flawed about this world we inhabit.”

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I have great appreciation for The Swans are Not Silent series by John Piper. Each volume includes 3 character sketches of significant figures in church history. Each  volume has a particular focus that determines the material Piper included and excluded from the volume. They were originally presented at Bethlehem’s Pastors’ Conference. So they are meant to be encouraging as well as convicting.

The 5th volume, which I finally made time to read, is focused on a passage from Colossians 1. It is appropriately called Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: the Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations… .

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

I was preaching on this passage and decided it would be a good move to read it. In the introduction, he asserts that Paul’s point is not merely that we suffer on account of the gospel, but for the benefit of the proclamation of the gospel. The introduction has some good material to help you think through this passage.

“One of the most sobering discoveries of my life is that God spreads the life-giving news about Jesus Christ by means of suffering and martyrdom.”

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I’m currently preaching through the life of Joseph, and was looking for a quote about thanking God for fleas and then realizing that God used that hardship for good. In the process of looking for it, I saw so many great quotes underlined that I decided to read The Hiding Place again.

Corrie ten Boom died in 1983, on her birthday, 91 years after she died. Hers was a remarkable life in many respects. Many younger Christians have not heard of Corrie, much to their loss.

The Hiding Place starts in an odd place- the 100th anniversary of the family’s watch repair business. They sold watches too, but her father was a renown repairman. At this party, you meet the people that will play key roles in her life story. A great bit of story telling, actually.

She spends some time talking about her family so we might know the ways in which God prepared her for what was to come. What was to come would not be easy. We hear of her parents’ piety and great faith. There are some folksy lessons that make so much sense and will become important later in her life. We learn how her father, despite a poorly managed shop, took in at various times 11 different children and helped raise them to adulthood. And then there the aunts who lived with them. Such a rich heritage that is so uncommon in this age of the nuclear family and the broken family. It was a training ground for helping others in suffering.

We learn about how her young heart was broken by the customs of the day. So she and her sister Betsie remained at home, unmarried, caring for their mother after her stroke, their aunts and their aging father. There was much love in that family.

“How grateful I was now for Father’s insistence that his children speak German and English almost as soon as Dutch.”

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Sunday night I boarded a flight with my son. The flight would take us to LA despite the fact that his first name and our last name was misspelled (Cavellaro it isn’t). That trip would result in surgery.

Apparently I still can’t focus my iPhone

CavSon was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate in 2006. In 2007, while still in China, his lip was repaired. After we adopted him in 2008, we had his palate repair and then revised. He will need a bone graft after his baby teeth are gone and the adult teeth are in. In light of this, we applied to the Shriners’ Hospital cleft team. The surgeon took a quick peek and said “he needs some surgery.” He was originally slated for surgery in November, the first opening the surgeon had at Shriners’. A few weeks ago we got a call informing us that there was a cancellation.  Suddenly, he was scheduled for May 7th.

CavSon was understandably nervous. He wasn’t looking forward to being apart from his mom and sister. But none of us expected what happened. A 3 hour surgery took about 6 hours. There was more extensive work done than we expected. To do that, the surgeon met some unexpected issues. In addition to elongating his palate (so he can make more sounds for his speech), there was some revision to the hard palate, as well as his lip (yet again). It is hard, at times, to sort our what is necessary and important and what is a result of the surgeon’s perfectionism. I’m just a parent, a pastor etc. You just aren’t sure.

With the length and extent of the surgery, CavSon did not rebound as quickly as he did in 2008. He was just a mess. I know it was irrational, but I felt like I’d failed my son, miserably. It was heartbreaking to watch those tears slowly slide down those cheeks intermittently. It didn’t help that he looked like he’d lost a battle with a baseball bat. Swollen, sutured and scabbed he was.

I won’t bore you with the stories of the vomiting up blood, my endless search for sleep, how little food I was able to eat and the joy of holding his bedpan.

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