5. Overcoming

19 02 2017

Chapter 4: The Museum in Heaven: Rectangle A“Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 5 of 13 posts)

Explanations aren’t necessarily comforting. Let’s take cancer for example. Why does a person get cancer? If only we could answer that definitively….

  • Your cancer was caused by your exposure to something in the environment.
  • Your cancer was caused by something you consumed: something you ate, drank, smoked.
  • Your cancer was caused by a physical failure, a mutation of cells or genes.
  • Your cancer was caused by your lifestyle or habits.
  • Your cancer was caused by a product you used, a lotion or shampoo or cosmetic.

….which answer would make a person feel better once they have it? You still have cancer.

However, as we see over and over again, many people with cancer impact others in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. Their vulnerability, honesty and courage comforts others. The way they live their lives even while ill, motivates people with other challenges to keep going. Even their physical illness urges scientists to keep researching. Some people, in the worst time of their lives, have created world-wide movements! Some people have left a marvellous legacy…because of cancer!

I want to step back for a moment before it seems like I am becoming “all for cancer.” I don’t think that in and of itself affliction is “good.” I don’t think that when you have cancer it is a gift even when one chooses a noble path through it. As I have already said in other posts, we are living in a fallen state in a fallen world where fallen things steal from our lives. God never designed us to be ill, to cry ourselves to sleep at night, to be racked with pain and worry…these are things that our collectively sinful choices have left us with and that our ruined planet offers us now. Systems began to fail the minute we chose evil over good.

Yet, repeatedly with any kind of troubling event in our lives, when things go awry, we find ourselves asking “why did this happen?” or “how did this happen?” as if these answers will be satisfying. Self-reflection is not without merit. It is good to examine our past actions to inform our future ones however such “ruminating” can trap us in a past that we can’t ever reconcile. If only we had done this, said this, changed this, saw this, chose this, stopped this, started this…we endlessly circle the block, asking the same questions over and over, and who do we meet there? Our traveling companions become Regret and Condemnation and the Fantasy/Sin of believing if we had a do-over we could have done things perfectly and had perfect results.

In this chapter, Edith Schaeffer asks us to lift our eyes and consider “time and events” differently. I don’t really know how to walk you through the whole chapter in an objective way, so I will try to do so by applying it to my own life. For the past 6 years I have been on what, for me, has been an agonizing journey with my two sons. I can’t even describe how much I love these two young men, but this season of our lives has been painful on lots of levels.

So here I am, and this is where we are.

Edith says to me, “Teresa, consider some lessons from Job.” Look at how his battle had significance in “the heavenlies,” she says. See how Satan attacks God through attempts to make His children stop trusting their Heavenly Father, and start “complaining and murmuring” against Him? (73) This makes me pause. At this very moment, Satan is allowed into the presence of God to “accuse us.” I have read this before, but in a time of affliction it stands out more profoundly. In my affliction, however it has come, Satan has a goal and God has a goal.

Satan’s best outcome is for me to give way to bitterness and to harden my heart against God. His win is to turn to God and say, “See, I knew she would.”

I have had times where I have teetered and reeled. I have been stunned and mute. I have been overwhelmed by fear and I have filled bottles with tears. I can just imagine Satan’s delight at that. If only he could keep me there, in an “unhappy” place, will I not distance myself from my Heavenly Father? In John 6:66 some of Jesus’ followers became disillusioned and left Him and He turned to a few others and asked, “Will you be leaving also?” (verse 67). I have, during this time, heard that question asked of me….

Where will I be and what will I be doing during this time of affliction…this time when things feel so undone and not at all as I envisioned it? It is exactly at this point of time that God has given me a task. Do you find that sometimes, when you are stressed, a task is the very thing you need? I clean my house when I am stressed. It is nice to put something in order and have it stay in order! And while I work, my head clears as I have worked off some negative energy and I can approach “the thing” from a new angle. Sitting around and fretting is the worst!!

During times of affliction, God gives us a very specific task to occupy ourselves with: to overcome. When I read that, it feels to me like God his literally put His hands around me, picked me up, and moved me to another spot with a totally different perspective. In the middle of an overwhelming situation in which I can do very little, He puts me in a place of action where I am tasked with something very practical and hands on as I spend each day with one goal: to overcome. To prevail.

In this chapter, Edit draws two rectangles, A and B. Each rectangle represents all the geographic space that has been lived in for all time from the beginning to the end. In these rectangles are all of our human experiences, including people coming to Christ, including our journeys with Him. We are all in those rectangles.


This is how she represents all that history. These two rectangles represent the “two kinds of victory which can be won by the people of God” (72). In this chapter she discusses rectangle A which “represents the victories in the heavenly battle which have taken place in the midst of unchanging circumstances” (72).  The large dot represents God looking over all of space and time, and the small dot represents Satan “accusing the brethren, coming before God and pointing out each one of us at various moments of our lives. He says, in essence: ‘This person does not love you, God. That person only loves his or her comfort [or possessions or health or land]'” (72-73).

Every affliction we face, no matter how it has arrived, is an opportunity of victory for God against Satan when we — each one of us as people who love God — “continue to love Him and trust Him in the midst of unchanging circumstances” (75). When we see progress and especially when we are turning the corner, it is very easy to “see God’s hand in it.” But what about those UNCHANGING, long-term-parking circumstances?  Edith encourages me to take a deep breath to see the bigger event that is going on. This thing I am walking through is about us and our boys, but it is about more then that. It is Satan’s best effort to prove that I don’t really love Christ. If he can keep me in a state of chaos or discouragement or anger or questioning, how can I possibly trust the Lord with all my heart?

Edith tells a story of a wonderful man who had so much life yet to live, yet he was cut down by illness and was on his death bed, about to leave the family and life and work that he loved. As He lay there, unable even to speak now, she challenged him “…that perhaps the next hours and days would be the most important ones of [his] life — a part he could still have in the battle in the heavenlies. When time is given us for a particular task, if we turn away from it at that time, that particular task can’t be repeated…” (68).

That last line stopped me in my tracks. I actually wrote it on my wall and challenged myself, “don’t turn away from your task. It can’t be repeated.” I am not to stand around wringing my hands, worrying and sighing as things don’t change. I — you — we are meant to understand that one very important victory we are meant to have is a series of repeated “overcomings” in a variety of difficulties (73).

Yes, this one I am in is important and I am called to VIGILANCE!  I am called to stand firm in my faith and pray to the Lord, “Please put your words into my mouth for this person, for this situation. Please give me Your Strength in my weakness in this specific need” (69). Instead of folding, crumbling, giving way to bitterness and endless questioning…in our affliction we are able to feel a new “camaraderie” with Jesus who suffered and offers to teach us how to walk through suffering, through His own personal experiences with it.

Read this powerful passage about God, Satan and us from Revelation 12:9-11

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.

10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—
    salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Christ.[a]
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters[b]
    has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
    before our God day and night.
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
    that they were afraid to die.

I read this and I am gripped by the larger drama, the events going on in that rectangle in the seen and unseen and I am so aware that what is going on in my life right now is so much bigger, so much bigger, than my family alone. How many side stories are there to this one? How much do I not see in how God is engaging with all of this? How many times is He calling to me to be completely occupied with overcoming.

Back to how I opened this post. I have analyzed our family’s journey from every angle and it hasn’t changed a single thing. It is like the cancer patient finding out what might have triggered their cancer. It’s just information and it may help someone else, but it doesn’t change the present. Who am I right here, and right now?

There is something going on here that is out of my control but not out of God’s framework. My ongoing story is a part of history now within that rectangle, and it is within the rectangle of opportunity for God to declare victory over Satan. It’s all so messy and I cannot predict the outcomes, but I do know that I will not let Satan have this. As for me, I plan to overcome, I plan to keep standing on God’s promises, I plan to keep raising my hand to “point North” to what is true and right and good and I plan to leave the rest with God. What a relief that He is far less shocked than I at all of these ruins, as He has surveyed all of human behaviour over all this time and still…He keeps making all things new.

How do we overcome? It is very simple and it involves the thing people do the least…but when we grow tired of wringing our hands, here is the beautiful alternative:

  • Pray. Pray. Pray. Say it, write it, sing it, walk it…pray. Have a conversation with your Creator and receive all His life giving words and promises.
  • Be in the Word. And then be in the Word again. Pick it apart, understand it, pull it deep inside your heart. It is good food.
  • Daily submit yourself and your life to your Heavenly Father. And then do it again when you forgot you did this. Do this again when you waver. Proclaim your trust. Refocus.
  • Lift your eyes beyond your circumstances to imagine how Satan is accusing you and accusing those you love. Reaffirm your loyalty to the cause of Christ and shake a fist at evil.
  • Worship with thankfulness!
  • Be in good fellowship with Believers who will walk with you and you with them. Don’t just be a taker either, bless others and pray for them. Affliction opens your eyes to affliction, let God grow your compassion!
  • Make yourself available for the Good Works God has for you…don’t stall out in His Kingdom work just because you are limping.

You don’t need to be a pillar of strength, just don’t become a hermit, a sluggard, a person enveloped by self-pity. Don’t give Satan a foothold and wreck you by drawing you into foolish temptations. Open your life to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and He will help you to be vigilant and determined — and to be successful at your one task:

To overcome.

— Teresa Klassen






4. What Were You Actually Told?

18 01 2017

Chapter 3: A Crack in the Curtain — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 4 of 13 posts)

What can any of us expect of life? We have expectations, we all do. In fact, as nations we take the time to write some of them down.

My American friends have declared their expectations, stating that “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain UNALIENABLE RIGHTS, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unalienable, by the way, means “unable to be taken or given away.” 

In my Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, these are some of what is promised to my collective by those who govern:

Section 7: right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
Section 12: right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.
Section 13: rights against self-incrimination

It is written down and I am owed those things (apparently). In fact, my first-world society tells me I am owed more then that as the word “deserve” is thrown around like confetti at a wedding.  Life should mirror Pinterest and if it doesn’t…stop everything, change course and speed, go after what you deserve.

Guess what? I have my own storyboard projecting what I believed I was promised as well. I didn’t even know I had one until some of the things on it were taken away and I had the acute sense of being ROBBED. When life took a few turns that I did not see coming it deeply, profoundly affected my life and my outlook. I didn’t even know I was expecting a certain kind of life until then, and had to examine it all.

“Why is this happening to me?”

“How could this be happening to me?”

“This is so unfair!”

“What did I do? What did they do? What did God do? What didn’t God do? What will He do? What is He capable of? What can I ask Him for?”

When life takes a turn for “the worst” we often feel betrayed or ashamed or confused or angry or bitter or afraid or desperate or judged or alone or…I have felt all these things. I have had a lot of time to think about this during fractured seasons.

Even as I reflect on all this, I am so thankful. It feels strange to say that, but by being dressed down, God has given me new clothes to wear. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel my journeys are unusual or I have done any hard season unusually well. But these experiences are unique to me and aren’t like anyone else’s because I am unique and my circumstances are my circumstances — so on my hard paths, I am a pioneer and as Edith says, “Pioneers always have a harder time in their uncharted experiences, as they push through jungles or wilderness without marked roads or maps” (50). Perfectly said and true for all of us.

You know you can’t talk about Affliction from a Christian perspective without talking about Job. So this chapter is largely about Job and as the author says, “We have a lot to thank Job for — he sailed an uncharted sea and stayed on course” (50). He had no way of knowing what an “important thing he was doing as he sat in the ashes covered with boils” (50). For any readers who haven’t read Job, you need to read the book or at least read a summary of what the Biblical book titled “Job” is all about. Here is a short one, but really — after all Job went through, his story really deserves a read: Summary of Job.

In this chapter of the book, Affliction, the main point is for us to see that Satan is trying to get Job to curse God as this is “Satan’s method of getting at God” (53). The point isn’t simply how bad Satan is, the point is how much we matter as individuals to the living God. However, “here is a sober warning — we also matter to Satan!” (51). Over the past few years, the reality of this has really landed on me.

I love “partnership.” I love doing life in community, alongside people who are determined to be faithful and stick-it-out with each other. I love my husband for this. I love my Church community, a group of people who have chosen to stay with each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, when it is easy and when it is hard. I love my family who have both celebrated and suffered with each other and have hung on even when the threads have been thin. And I love, most of all, that I get to partner with Christ.

This has become a visual thing for me — something I see in my “mind’s eye.” There are passages in Scriptures that say that Satan stands before God “accusing” us. He accuses us of all our failures, and Christ defends us. I can’t imagine having Satan in my ear all day long, dripping with negativity about the creation God loves. Until all is made right, until creation groans no more…our God is putting up with this evil fellow (for a time), the one we invited into our lives through our disobedience way back in Genesis. Through our invitation we see the wreckage that has come…

“We see then that Satan has the power to work in other people — to incite wars, assassinations, violence of person against person. In some measure he also has the power over the elements and can bring tornados and lightning. Now he directly sends disease. As the ‘prince of this world’ he definitely has a certain degree of power for the battle. Job’s boils appeared ‘from the sole of his foot unto his crown,’ in other words every inch of his body (2:7)” (53)

When one suffers, everything moves in slow-motion, in shadows, in valleys. The book of Job, in those times, is a gift. A manual of sorts. We see that Job was in the dark, not knowing what happened or what would happen. We also see that Job does not give way to whatever his expectations may have been. He trusts God: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (Job 1:22).

But Job was discouraged. He couldn’t understand what was happening. There is no way to not feel this way. Suffering is called suffering for a reason; it’s not any other sunny day when something happens to you that grinds you down. But “discouragement and depression are not equaled with cursing or blaming God” (54). Job’s view was bigger than the moment he was in. He understood something about life and what we are promised and not promised that we would do well to learn from.

Job was open to being shown whatever he needed to see about his life (Job 13:23) but he wasn’t sent into a tailspin over it. He trusted his walk with God. He made things right as he went. He did not drag sin around with him. He did what he could, as best he could, to walk God’s way. When things started to go south, it isn’t because he was neglectful.

This is where we need to learn to listen well, and choose who we listen to. “People constantly drift into a simplistic lack of balance and are in danger of joining Job’s comforters” (56) who sought to find an explanation for everything — and in this case, “what did you do?” This is what we do when trouble hits, don’t we? We look for the cause. If you listen to the news at all, the continual question posed in the face of any difficulty is, “Who or what is to blame for this?” and we do the very same thing. We want an explanation for affliction because there must be something we can put our finger on, but what we don’t do is just get quiet and sit where we are in the ashes and consider God’s bigger view and what He is doing in the midst of suffering, how ever it came about.

Let’s not be shocked about suffering. Afflictions come. They are unavoidable, so we must not think we will ever, ever escape affliction. If we could, we would be like God and that is the first and biggest lie. While we live in this world, we will face suffering. Expect it. As the earlier chapters stated, broken world equals brokenness. That’s the bed we made. Even as I write that, I realize that is a hard pill to swallow because….. because…. because of what we think we were promised but never were (refer back to my introduction of this post). We weren’t promised if we “do everything right” all will go right.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about what suffering we bring on ourselves, because I think we know that. Sometimes we are idiots. Sometimes we disobey and hope we can get away with it. We rebel, we fake, we act out of greed. Sometimes we are just humans and fail and mess up and cause a mess. Sometimes others sin and we suffer because of their choices – unavoidable. The state of sin and evil in our world paves the way to suffering. Sometimes very innocent people (children) suffer because of what we have allowed in this world, environmentally, legally, permissively, stupidly, cowardly…

But this is an overarching truth: Always, Satan is on the prowl wanting to kill God’s work that is going on in and through us and even though suffering can be a great teacher, Satan will use suffering to turn us away from God. So no matter whether it is us, someone else, or another direct attack of Satan, remember that Satan “in his false work tries to turn aside the trust in God on the part of God’s people and change it to the trust in some false promise of a ‘thing’ (63) and the thing always is something that diverts our attention from God’s actual purposes and intentions in our circumstances. Here too, the Bible says Satan will flee from us when we assert that we will not fall to temptation!!

This chapter challenges us that we shouldn’t just do everything we can to get out of our suffering, spend all our time doing that, and lose what God is doing. Edith points out that Jobs comforters “promised immediate relief if he would just repent of his sin — this is a lie that ‘the immediate result would be that everything would be fine'” (64). We search our databanks for solutions that will “make things fine.” We dread afflictions and fight against them. We listen to people, we read books written by people, we seek comfort from people who will help us get out of our pain yet, “we are warned that Satan will not only tempt us to complain against God when afflictions come, but will also try to turn us into getting rid of the affliction the wrong way. Satan can do ‘miracles’ or ‘wonders’ and can give power to people to do them” (65).

Jobs “friends” suggested suffering was due to a cause and an effect. It suggests that we must be doing something wrong, or not seeing something, and therefore we suffer. It also suggests that righteous people don’t suffer. Error.

Job contemplated the nature and the fairness of God and saw that there would be no balance until the resurrection. And in the things Job could not see at all, we are given the window to see that much more is at work in suffering.

“We have an eternity ahead to increase our knowledge and understanding. What we need now is just enough to live by. We have been given understanding, but also a warning. The account of Job’s life (which tells us more than Job knew) is a warning to us. we are meant to grasp that warning sufficiently to help us see how worthwhile are periods of our lives which seem to be a waste. We are meant never to forget — no matter how shrill the wind, how violent the storm — that there is meaning and purpose to our lives. This involves us as individuals, involves other people (future and present), and involves God Himself, as well as Satan as he tries to ‘win'” (62)

When we suffer, we ought to “shut ourselves” into “contemplating the fairness of God in His marvellously personal attention to us as individuals, now throughout all this life and on into eternity” (66). Yes I know that goes against our fight or flight instincts, but let’s learn from Job who regretted that he had not trusted more, that he had not more willingly gone through all the afflictions, trials and tribulations of those weeks and months. I feel this. Some of the things that have happened in my life left me feeling like I had a concussion: dizziness, vomiting, uncontrollable emotions, loss of the ability to think straight.

Yes, I was discouraged. But I was also so thrown off by it all…like, as I said, I had been robbed. But was I? Wasn’t all of that “par for the course” Scripturally, being told again and again that I would, most definitely, at some point, and probably at other points, suffer? And haven’t I ultimately benefitted from the lessons learned as my heavenly Father has patiently walked with me?

I so echo Edith’s prayer

“Oh God, my dear Heavenly Father, I didn’t really know how great and marvellous You really are. You are so magnificent, so wonderful, so great, so beyond anything I was able to imagine You to be. I did worship You and I did trust You, but it was such a tiny fraction of what I should have done, had I realized more completely just what You are like and how perfect You are. Oh, God of the Universe, Master and Creator, there are not sufficient words in the human language to express the difference between You and me, and I want that expression so very urgently that I must make a visible and feelable difference by shredding my clothing and putting dirt on myself, so that I can feel I am bowing before You in a state which demonstrates the difference to myself more clearly” (59).

God has never forsaken me. Whenever I hear that line in the song “Shepherd” by Bethel Music it catches in my throat. Truth. Even in my most undignified displays, when I wept without any clear view of what God was doing…He did not forsake me.

The book of Job says there came a time, the ‘turning of the captivity, ‘ which refers to the fact that God no longer allowed Satan to hit Job with his fiery darts (60). Think of what Job went through for OUR BENEFIT. His historical suffering and redemption informs our historical suffering and redemption, and we would do well to study the nature of it. If we do, we see that the cruelty of Satan, his deception and destruction is at the root of ALL suffering. It was through Satan’s trickery that a human being turned their eyes from their Maker originally and all of us have since, no matter how hard we try not to. It was through such a cloaked evil, that all of creation suffers and declines and is overrun by waste and neglect. It is because of this that Jesus Christ came — the ultimate act of War against death and destruction and gives meaning to our present suffering and hope and strength and the assurance that this is not wasted time.

And, what we are actually promised…the promise you can write down is , there is an end, an absolute end to all tears and sorrow when Jesus — only Jesus — will wipe all tears from our eyes. Any comfort from anywhere else is only temporary. And…this here is life for the time being, and a life worth living and learning in. This is our home for now, and one Jesus said we should pray for, that we would all experience some of heaven on earth. And don’t we? Don’t we when we are lifted out of our present circumstances to see His greater purpose? Don’t we when He helps us? Don’t we when He makes us “battle ready” and don’t we when we are given strength to walk the most difficult paths? Don’t we, when Satan doesn’t win? Don’t we when we can suffer without despair?

If you are in the dust, lock eyes with Jesus who is defending you and will walk you through your valley, even sets a table you can eat comfortably at in the middle of your afflictions, all this and more…much to the dismay of The Enemy.

— Teresa Klassen

PS. Speaking of handling suffering well, take the time to watch this. It is worth it. You can skip the music and announcements if you like…it is a Message given by Erwin McManus from Mosaic church in Los Angeles. It makes the point very well. And while you are at it, pray for him, his family, and Mosaic.

3. When Everything Goes Wrong

7 01 2017


Chapter 2: The Message From Stephen and Paul — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 3 of 13 posts)

If you do everything right, will everything turn out all right? If you sow the right seed, if you are kind to a fault, if you tread very, very carefully upon this earth — will you reap only good from the good you have sown? If you see something sliding off to the side and catch it right away, can you avert disaster? Can you, my friend, dodge the bullet?

I think that I thought that I could; or at least, I used to think that. I know I not am alone in this, but I will just speak about myself since I can do that. I wrote myself a very good myth and I am still unlearning it. I hung a picture on the wall of what I wanted my life to look like. It wasn’t a bad picture, in fact it was amazing! It’s just that it was impossible and unrealistic and no one ever told me that I could have that life; I just assumed it. I assumed it because I was crafting it. I paid a lot of attention to what I was doing and how I was doing it, but in the construction of my story, I just didn’t factor in things like sin and brokenness and free will; these three things, mine and others, were and continue to be a wrecking ball.

But it isn’t just that.

I have always loved Jesus. I have always wanted to walk His way. Here too I have worked deliberately to do so. Here too I imagined what that looked like and I made assumptions. Here too I took this phrase and that phrase and wrote a doctrine. I wrote a version of the truth. It wasn’t all false, it was just incomplete: it didn’t include pain. It sang the hymn, “’tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” in the sunshine and didn’t account for the shadows and where God was then.

As I look back, in an avalanche I was so busy scrambling to get out of it, to be relieved of it, I often assumed the worst about it and didn’t see what Jesus says in John 9:3: “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed…” So many times I did not see the great, great presence of God in the very epicenter of my trouble but prayed like mad He would get me out of it instead.

And trouble discouraged me. I didn’t blame others for it, though sometimes I tried. It would have been easier if I could just say, “it was their fault,” but mostly I blamed myself. I suffered for it time and time again, blaming myself. How could this happen? What did I miss? Yes…what did I miss. What I ‘do’ makes this worse. I am the proverbial ‘pastor’s wife’ (a calling I have both loved and chafed at) so things can go wrong in a hundred-and-fifty ways. Hands embrace me until they point at me (and by me I mean the inseparable ‘us’), I am a friend until I am a role (depending on what people decide); did I fulfill it? Was it me? It probably was, if you trace it back…

To make matters worse, the thing I worked at the hardest has turned out to be the hardest. I said, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord…” but not everyone in the house has gone along with that. Not by a long shot.

What a journey this has all been. I want to pause and say, thank you God for your love and faithfulness (Psalm 92). You have not left this brown leaf stranded. You have always been at work in the storm and you have always said, “Come to me,” when I am feeling exposed to the weather. You have not been content to leave me with my notions, but have always put the truth in front of me — again and again — and have called me to walk in it. You have called me to redefine the word “good” and I am still learning this. Blessed be the Good Name of the Lord!

Edith Schaeffer, a timely mentor, begins: “We have had individuals come to us who have been crushed and discouraged to an extreme because of being mistakenly taught that the criterion of being in the Lord’s will, and in contact with Him through prayer, is to have everything go well…” (31). We don’t always say it out loud, but on some level we think it. I certainly hear from people that they believe God wants them to be “happy.” I certainly hear that people believe they are walking in the “will of God” when things just “come together.” I hear over and over that people feel “blessed” when life is going their way. “God is good” when things are good and when thankfulness is easy to come by.

If this is our theology, we best not read the Bible because “The Word of God is very fair in giving us realistic examples of God’s servants throughout history. The Bible not only tells us that affliction is an expected part of the lives of God’s people, but helps us to relate to others who have faced the same things we face, or much worse” (31). I think, as we read it is easy to skip over the verses about suffering. When Jesus says we will identify with Him in our suffering (1 Peter 4:13, as an example: But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed) we “google translate” that to mean: “Jesus sure did suffer. I am so glad I don’t have to go through that.”

For those of us who live lives of ease, relative to 90% of the world, we think we are doing something right. We are demonically deluded into thinking we are doing something right. Tell me, what do we say to our suffering brethren in other parts of the planet? Things are going to get better? It would be more realistic for those living in the “First World”, more Biblical, to comfort each other, encourage each other to feed more diligently on the Word and say, “Be prepared, things are going to get worse.”

1 Corinthians 4:9-14 describes the disasters Paul and his traveling companions have lived through (take a moment to read it). Edith responds,

“Do you think you have more faith, live closer to the Lord, know more of the power of the Holy Spirit, and have greater answers to prayer because you live a life that has more comfort, less illness or hardship, less persecution, less slashing criticism, less attacks from Satan in one form or another? If the apostles are fools for Christ’s sake, do you think you are more spiritual because you are counted as wise? If the apostles are weak and acknowledge it, do you feel comfortable in counting yourself as strong? If the apostles are despised on every side, do you feel pride in being honoured in so many ways? As you are well filled with food and drink and have wonderful homes to dwell in, can you look down upon the apostles reality of closeness to the Lord while they are hungry and thirsty and without a fixed place to live in?” (42)

What is our vision of what it looks like to be a growing Christian, walking in the favour of our God? “Is it a steady stream of deliverances from hardships, troubles, afflictions, and persecutions? Or is it more diverse and deeper than that?…Let us be warned in our practical attitudes and daily actions, as well as in the basic understanding of our heads and hearts” (42).

I wish I had really wrapped my head around this far earlier in my life with greater deliberation. Who do I think I am? Do I think I am better than Paul? Is my walk more consistent than his? Is my faith stronger? Has my impact been greater? Of course not!! Paul is a Giant! Yet, “Three times Paul went through a shipwreck. He was not saved from the ordeals of fear and stormy waves, of fingers wrinkling up from hours in the water, nor of feelings of imminent drowning. He went through it all — not as a dream, but as a part of the day-by-day history of his life…” (45).

As we turn the thin pages of our Bible and take in the stories of those who have gone before us, let’s not read too quickly. Let’s stop and really think about the actuality of it. Why has God given us all these examples?

“God means us to be encouraged by Paul’s experience and also to understand that our melange of difficulties — our mix of troubles, our flow of blows from right to left, our sorrows and disappointments, our dark surprises and crushing telegrams [emails and texts today!] is not some strange thing that has nothing to do with a Christian life. God is warning us to not ‘go under the waves,’ to not ‘give up the fight.’ We are in a war but we are also to understand that the ‘good race’ gives an explanation of what we are to understand as a natural clarification of the deluge of difficulties we find surrounding us. ” (45)

In the previous chapter Edith addressed our tendency to ask Why? and here she calls us again to consider what God is up to. At their root, difficulties do have an explanation as we already touched on in that chapter, but beyond that part of understanding them and to have hope in the middle of them is to recognize the fact that “God works in the midst of history” (47) in the best of times, and the worst of times. Think for a moment that while the Jews were living under the oppression of the Roman Empire, Jesus was born at this very time.  In the middle of what was historically difficult, it was also a time when the Roman Empire made travel doable. Their system of roads meant you could travel by land and connect with cities far and wide. Edith notes, “These things did not come by chance. It was not by chance that Jesus was born in the golden age of the Roman Empire…His times are well chosen” (46) and from there, the Gospel spread along these roadways through Paul and the other apostles.

There is much more to be said about our present afflictions, but let’s not forget that God does not waste them. Your trouble may be carving a path for someone else to find new life or victory in some area of their own struggle. In my own life, I testify to the truth of that. But let’s not get hung up on just this, “Is affliction something that can be designated as an area having only one kind of explanation? Or is there a balance to be studied?” (48) As we will see, there is much more to be pondered on the topic in the chapters to come.

This chapter hit a soft spot in me when Edith approached the topic of the Church. Edith again refers to Paul where he says that, “he himself has experienced danger — not to the body, but to the continuation of preserving the clarity of true truth, without being ‘muddied up.’…Paul couples exhaustion, tiredness, fatigue, and weariness with pain [all the human ailments and physical illnesses and injuries that accompanied him]. He speaks of being ‘in watchings often’…praying that his little flocks of believers would not be devoured by false teachers described as ‘grievous wolves [who] enter in among you.'” (47)

For me, I have two houses I watch over and ache over. There is my own, and we have had plenty of joy and trouble within. And then there is the other house,  I love and ache over, that of my church family where we have also had plenty of joy and trouble within. This second house represents streets of houses, and it can be overwhelming. Over the course of the past 19 years, I have been able to identify with what Paul means when he says, “Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of [anxiety for] all the churches.” I am thinking of how I have also wrestled with this, thinking somehow it should be easier to tend. I have so often wondered when things would “even out” and be less uphill. I have been trying to figure it out, as if there is some key to it all. If the past 19 years are any indication, and if what I have learned over that time about Satan’s hatred of the Church is true, I don’t think things are going to reach a sweet spot…ever.

I am thinking of the church planters who our church prays for through the C2C Network and the possibly unfamiliar anxieties they are experiencing, the difficulties they are coming up against, the sleepless nights.

“This is an especially painful kind of anxiety and not something that God points out as wrong. It was something Paul rightfully suffered — to be anxious about the safety of the babes in Christ, that they would have the spiritual food and drink (without added ‘poison’) necessary for proper growth. He finishes by admitting his own weakness and his own ability to stumble (47).

In all this, Paul is giving us a more well-rounded picture of affliction. There is not one area of his life that remains untouched and through his honesty, he makes it clear “that no one suddenly arrives at the pinnacle of faith where all difficulties — every weakness, pain and stumbling — are at an end. No one arrives at such a peak of Christian faith and complete life of prayer that there is nothing to be seen but perfection within and without” (48).

Isn’t there a strange comfort in this? When we meet people we admire and then hear about their own wrestling with the harder questions of life, when they are honest about where they hurt, when they put aside privacy to publicly talk about how they are working it through? Paul gives us this window and we find “we can relate to him an all our variety of sufferings and know that he experienced far more loneliness, misunderstanding, and violence than most of us will ever experience” (48). And as we consider his life, we can debunk our own myths and be set free to experience our afflictions in a new way.

“If we were making a chart of ‘ups and downs,’ it seems to me that the ‘up’ of Paul’s hearing the voice of the Lord and seeing the blinding light was soon followed by the ‘down’ of blindness and going without food. In his hour-by-hour living, the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ of his years were more frequent than the moments of coming close to being ‘too exalted'” (49).

Are there “good” seasons and “bad” seasons or do we just need to redefine those words?

Which of your stories will you end up telling at the end of your life? The vacation that went especially well? Or the time you thought you were crushed, done, broken, hopeless, but instead persevered in Christ and came away new.

— Teresa Klassen

P.S. “God I look to you. I won’t be overwhelmed. Give me vision, to see things like you do. God I look to you. You’re where my help comes from. Give me wisdom, to know just what to do.” — Jenn Johnson from Psalm 121 and other similar passages.

2. Why, Why , Why

5 01 2017

img_9655Chapter 1: Why, Why, Why — “Affliction” By Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 2 of 13 posts)

If, out of the whole book, I had only read this chapter it would have been worth the purchase. As I am re-reading what I underlined, the truth of what Edith writes about, grabs me all over again!

As children, we drove our parents crazy with the question Why? and as teenagers we often rebelled against them because their answers didn’t make sense. As adults, we continue to wrestle with what we don’t understand and therefore we wrestle with God. We keep asking Why? to see if He will come up with an answer that is good enough (a measurement that differs for each person).

There are a lot of things we wonder about and Edith begins the chapter with plenty of true stories that naturally leave people asking Why? Why do children suffer, why is someone murdered, why is happy event ruined by a tragedy, why are there such injustices, betrayal, rebellion, broken dreams and so much sorrow and pain? Why is there…affliction?

Let’s talk about death.

For me, this chapter said what I have felt about it and took it further to affirm some amazing things about the God who made us. This chapter left me so THANKFUL!!

Enjoy these beautiful words Edith wrote:

“Death was not what God made man and woman to experience….” Can we just stop there for a moment? How many things do we assign to God (ie. blame God for) that are misplaced? Let’s just start here. Imagine God creating the first man and woman and the astounding detail He put into them. Look at us! We are not some experiment. We are crafted! Your fingers are amazing. Your eyes are astonishing. The way your “mind” works is confounding. Notice I said “mind” not brain because how do you even explain “the mind?” You know when you say, “I changed my mind.” What is that?!?!? And how, when you look upon a tree laden with snow, do those images float through some processor that whispers to your emotions that this beauty makes you want to cry? Do you think for a second that you are living and breathing and feeling without the pure delight of your Creator? Do you think He did all this and is content to see you decay? Is any one of us satisfied to see what we love, falter? No. Death is not what God made us to experience.

Is it just me or does that make your existence feel so ROYAL? Continue…

“Death was not what God made man and woman to experience. Body and spirit were made to be one, not to be torn apart. The body is a marvellous creation more intricate than any other individual part of the created universe. The body is precious, not only to each total personality of which each body is a part, but to God who created the body to fulfill the capacities of the whole person — to taste, smell, feel, hear, see, think, love, communicate, choose, and be creative. The body is involved along with the spirit in the oneness of the whole person to fulfill the possibility of expression in art and music, science and literature, agriculture and forestry, food preparation and architecture, and so many other areas something of the tremendous scope which Man — male or female — has been given to enjoy. Eyes can express love or scorn, response or revulsion. The vocal cords can communicate a fantastic range of things which seem to be intangible. The tongue and lips are important but cannot replace hands or feet…”

Stop for another minute. I don’t know how you felt reading that, but I just felt so much relief that ALL OF ME matters to God. I think people get this idea that this “spirit” we have, our “soul” is what is precious to God. That’s cool. But I am so thankful that my whole person matters to God. If this body is a throw-away, couldn’t all of me be? But it’s not. God did not give us a vehicle He was content to discard after a time. We are going to read more about that, but you and I in our entirety are precious to Him. He gave us these abilities, these human abilities, and is proud of them! He gave us a personality and never wanted one to be just like another. Taste and eyesight mattered to Him, vocal cords and facial expressions and the ability to run our hand over a surface and glean information, this all matters to Him.

“Yet, as we stand beside a body which has been separated from the spirit in death, although perhaps the physical parts are intact, one knows the person has gone…the body is there, but the person is not there to use it.” (18)

When my mom died, she did not die in pain. She did not die disfigured. She did not die alone. One might say she died a “good death” but as I stood beside her, as I touched her face and realized she was gone there was not one single good thing about it. I did not move quickly to the more comforting truths but stared at death, my enemy. It was abundantly clear to me in that moment that death was a vandal.

Why do we think death is just a part of our normal existence? “Death has been thought of as ‘normal’ only because it has taken place throughout all history” (19) but we need to stare at it and not be fooled. God did not include death as His plan. When He poured Himself, literally, into His creation and most distinctly into the creation of Man and Woman, He did not write death into it. For me, that is a very beautiful thing to reflect on. God’s plan for us was entirely good. That was the only time we could say that all was right in the world.

“Adam and Eve experienced the transition from living in a perfect world to living in a spoiled world. Adam and Eve had known what it was to be ‘normal human beings’ living in the ‘normal world,’ but they were the only ones who were able to compare by personal experience what ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ were like. Their choice to act upon the lie of Satan, as if it were the truth, brought about the result that God had predicted. The world became abnormal. We have lived — and do live in — an abnormal world. Things have been spoiled, vandalized by Satan…” (19)

When we ask Why? we need to travel way back to this point.

If you have ever lived with or walked with people who are stuck in a place of blame, you know what it feels like to think, “I wish they would just take responsibility for their behaviour!” It is so frustrating to listen to them, day after day, blame everyone but themselves. If only they would own what they have done, there would be a new freedom for them and they could move forward.

This very same principle as true for us. Why are we in such a mess? Because we made it. Why is there such evil?  Why does one person cause another pain? Why is the environment in ruins? Why are we getting sick all the time? Why is there such division? Why? Because we chose this over the loving guidance and boundaries our Good Father set for us. To ask Why? can only be answered “in the concept of the total picture of what history has been since the Fall…” (26).

We have what Edith calls a cause and effect history. It quickly became apparent to Eve what the “spoiled Creation” would mean for all relationships. When her eldest son murdered his brother, she knew as she stood before the inert body of her son that death was “now to be a part of the human experience, but was not normal. God had created the body and spirit to be one…” (20).

The ramifications of the literal Fall are terrible. We have got to wrap our minds around all of this causing an abnormal tilt to our planet. We shouldn’t get comfortable and think that the best that life has to offer, is actually the best.

What is our highest achievement? Some measure of wealth?

What is our greatest satisfaction? Some measure of beauty or recognition?

What gives us joy? A functional family around the dinner table?

What is a lifetime to us so that we feel OK at “the end”?

Friend, we live in an abnormal world and everything we think is everything is only a fraction of what God originally gave us. Is 85 years a good long life? Friend, death is an enemy. The end, is an enemy. Don’t settle!  We, as believers, “do not need to pretend that it is ‘lovely’ to feel the harshness of suddenly being out of communication…” (22) we can acknowledge “Death is an enemy, and it is something which God hates too. Death is a part of the battle between Satan and God — and the final victory will be God’s” (21). When I read this, I was so glad to reflect that God hates what we hate!

When I stood by my mom’s body, that is what I felt. I felt angry at the destruction and I felt worship for the Rescuer Who defied the enemy at the very same time: “The victory which Christ died to give us has a future aspect…that victory is the one that will destroy death”(25).

I so agree with Edith when she says when someone dies and the others stand about, “Smiling and saying, ‘It’s all so lovely and peaceful…'[it] is a type of hardness and coldness to the enemy death. Christians are blending into the truth of what exists in this fallen, abnormal world when they experience the emptiness of a room which a person has just left…Christians are behaving as God describes in His Word as ‘natural’ when they weep as a result of death. It is God who will wipe away all tears — not another human being” (21). Yes! Truth! Death highlights that we are waiting, consciously waiting for something FAR BETTER THAN THIS!

“True hope changes sorrow, but does not obliterate it. Death is not to be taken as a ‘normal, beautiful release’ but as an enemy which separates body from spirit and human beings from each other. It spoils the beautiful Creation of God. It is so basically an enemy that God says that He will pay a great price, a ransom, to deliver us from death’s power” (22). This idea that the body and spirit were meant to be together affects our whole view of death. God is not content to have these two things separated and that is why it necessitates new bodies. Have you thought about this? This idea that being a “spirit being” of some sort, floating around in the universe, is anti-good. Good is body and spirit, whole. If you want to know the difference between eastern religious thought and God’s truth, here is one distinct difference. Our highest attainment is not to be “one with the universe,”it is to be present with the Lord, intact as His creation: body, soul and spirit.

And here is where the most amazing truth ought to land on us, I mean really LAND ON US. If all this is true, that God loves us so much that he created us to be physical beings, valued us enough to put His breath in us and give us life — then our very worst thing, the thing that we ought to fear the most, is our total destruction through death. Death is our worst thing. Why did Jesus have to die? Why? Why? Why? He died to CONQUER OUR WORST THING. When death — death introduced by Satan — entered the world, we were in bondage to it. We had no way to escape death. It was coming, it was coming for every one of us but Jesus, through death, “destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-16

The devil is the one who brought about death, he has the power of death, but as Edith writes, “It is conclusive that death is a terrible enemy, since it could not be put out of the way, except by the coming of the Second Person of the Trinity as truly man — so that He could ‘taste death’ in our place. John 1:14 says: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”…He experienced death in order to abolish its sting” (23). Jesus took that sting, He took the worst thing we have, death!!

“To ignore the reality of death as an enemy is also to diminish the wonder of the available victory over sin and the permanent results of death” (23). When we comfort each other, “the comfort carries with it a reality of waiting, not only waiting to ‘go’ also — to depart for the same place someday — but a waiting for the return of Jesus which will finish the whole abnormality of the body’s being someplace other than with the spirit” (24).

So where does that leave us?

First, we need to remember our first mistake. It happened before, and it is still happening. We are finite and human, and we still are rebelling — creatures against Creator. We still demand equality because we still demand that God meet our demands. The old word is the word for today: we need to repent of this. We need to remember God is our Father and we are His children and no matter how much we don’t understand His ways, we must not think we can switch places.

Second, we need to recognize that this is an abnormal universe. We must not get comfortable with what we see now. We must not think that out of these ruins, we are going to build some perfect life. This is a false-hood we tell ourselves and then get angry at God for not giving us what we want. He is too good for that. His plans are too good for that. We need to stop being tempted by and lulled into a paltry satisfaction.

Third, we need to stop trying to come up with a genius answer for everything. We need to be willing to let God be God, and to stay in our own place as human beings. It is not necessary for us to give an explanation for everything that happens, good or bad (more about this in later chapters). Affliction is made up of many aspects, concentrating on one area is apt to be out of balance or tune. As we study Scripture about our lives here, “God’s Word picks up first one note, then another, but we are meant to consider it over a lifetime, with a growing understanding that never comes to a point of completion” (28). As we continue to walk with our Father “we ask for a measure of balance (a measure since none of us can ever have perfect balance in any other area of life, until Jesus returns)” (27).

On that same note, we need to stop analyzing everything to find the “key” so that from that point on everything will work out much better. Was it this decision that brought affliction? Was it that one? Sometimes we do make poor choices, but as we will see in the coming chapters, affliction is going to be with us, no matter what. “We cannot compare our own pattern to someone else’s to discover whether or not we are in the Lord’s will. God has individual and very diverse plans for the lives of His children, and Satan’s attempts to turn us aside are also diverse. Poverty can be an attack, but so can affluence. Hardship can be an attack, but so can ease. And when we face the death of a loved one, the attempt to twist us into bitterness can be an attack, but so can a false covering up of sorrow.” (29)

There is soooooo much I could write about this one quote, it could be a whole other blog. Think about it: do you look at people’s lives that seem so “perfect” and think they are really doing things right? What if their very ease is their spiritual undoing? What if it is destroying their character? What if their paradise is keeping them from fulfilling Jesus’ call to reach the lost? On the other hand, do you look at people’s lives who are struggling and naturally try to explain it/judge it? Their problems are their fault, it’s a punishment from God, it is cruel bad luck, it is a spiritual attack? — ponder that for a while and think about how the enemy, at this moment, might be trying to fool you.

Fourth, we need to help each other overcome. Edith writes, “There is no place to go for a vacation from the abnormality of the universe, from the effects of the Fall upon every area of life, and from the conflict of the ages. Persecution and affliction are a normal part of the Christian life. We need not be surprised or ashamed when our work, our family, our church, or our individual person is hit by some form of affliction, Satan does not fight against himself” (28). We need to stop being so private and separate from one another. Our desire “should be to help each other find victory in hidden places and ‘overcome him by the blood of the Lamb’ in very practical moment-by-moment happenings in our day-to-day lives” (29).

There is so much to think about here, but here is the most important thing, the thing Edith closes with and so will I. Friend, don’t let the question Why? create a wall for you for the rest of your life. We have an adequate answer to the main problem:

We messed up. Messing up caused a ripple effect, by a million ripple effects. The more “astray” things went, the more we forgot that things were normal once and what we have preferred abnormal over God ever since. Own it, but remember: That is not the end of the story.

“The enemy — death — has an end. Satan’s long attempts to separate every living being from God (and to separate every person from his or her own body in some sort of agonizing tearing apart) is not going to succeed. Death does not kill the spirit, nor does it spoil the truth.” (30)

— Teresa Klassen

1. “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer

4 01 2017

img_9655Preface — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978

(Part 1 of 13 posts)

A Preface to the Preface

A friend of mine recommended this old book, written in 1978. I found it used, online, and it arrived with an appropriately musty smell; I am pretty sure it was sitting in someone’s basement for the past 30 years. I knew in the prologue, this was going to be an important book for me and I knew in the last chapter, I was going to have to blog on it. I have underlined many pages, written notes all over it, spilled coffee and tears on its pages and even though I have finished the book, the book isn’t finished with me.

A book can be a mentor, and this is certainly one of those. I have listened to Edith for a few months now and by spending a little more time with her I think I will be able to remember more of what she said, and maybe it will serve someone else too.

Half way through reading the book I stopped and took out my journal and wrote a letter to her. She is no longer walking the earth, but I felt like I had been sitting with her for days and days and I was so grateful for the time she took to write these words for me and all the others. I was also thankful to pick up where she left off in praying for some things that matter, and people who matter, with a new picture of what those prayers mean historically. I pictured her as one of those witnesses the Bible refers to in Hebrews 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” in my own quest for perseverance in the race.

Of the people I look forward to seeing one day, she is one.

If anyone happens to read this blog and the ones to follow, I hope some new strength is passed on to you for your journey. I know I won’t be able to translate all the book said, but hopefully the bit I do write on will serve a good purpose and maybe you will find the book somewhere and read it too. At the end of the book I wished I could have given it to my 20-year-old-self  so I would have better understood affliction, suffering and hardship as it came, but mentors arrive as they arrive and I can only assume that I wouldn’t have taken it to heart in the same way I do now. I probably needed a few dings and bruises to appreciate these lessons.

As it was written in 1978, the language is from another time and the Scriptures quoted are often written in King James Version. There was something about this that worked for me; it slowed me down as I turned the phrases around so I was viewing them and thinking about them differently. I relaxed about the Thee’s and Thou’s and saw a lot of beauty in the differences between that version and the NIV or ESV I normally find myself in. So, if you do pick up the book, be patient and don’t get hung up on 1978. As Edith said, there is “true Truth” that transcends the generations and the peculiarities of our eras. In our time, the phrases we used in 2016 rotted much more quickly.

So, beginning with the Preface we dive in…

In the opening paragraphs of the Preface Edith says, “When people try to live on the basis of erroneous ideas they have picked up about what happens (or is supposed to happen) concerning affliction when one becomes a Christian, it is apt to be like riding with a flat tire, trying to carry all the weight in one bag, reading by the light of a candle, or ‘seeing through dirty glasses.'” (10) The question of suffering or affliction is one of the big stumbling blocks of our generation that keeps us an arms length from God. Because we are so prone to believe we can figure everything out so that it makes sense to us (“Science” and “Reasoning” we call it), affliction and suffering does not compute when we also say that God is loving. We form beliefs around what we believe and Edith refers to these as flat tires. If we believe what we believe without gathering enough information from the Bigger, Wider, Perspective…are our truths true? When we insist on changing places with our Creator and decide for ourselves what is what, we buy into the oldest lie: “you can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The thing about affliction and our view of it is that as we are often in pain ourselves when we consider it. When we are in pain all our doubts and questions bubble up from the depths. When we have a plan for our lives and things unravel, where is God in that? When we hear of some atrocity, we are uncertain where to go with our indignation. When we pray, believing we can “ask anything” in the Name of Jesus, but the very thing we ask for does not come about, what then? Troubles large and small can throw us, turning our whole world upside down, anger and bitterness can take root or we can simply live in denial and settle for a weak, ineffective Faith and hold loosely onto a God we don’t entirely trust (I speak from experience).

There is an alternative and, I am learning, a victory in this if we are willing to stare at Affliction/Suffering for a while and step back to view the bigger picture of our existence to hopefully come to a place of joy — that place we cannot fathom which the Apostle Paul refers to when he says “but we rejoice in our sufferings” in Romans 5:3.

As to my role in this, don’t think for a second I have reached some “zen” place on the matter. To even pretend that I or anyone can, is to deny or displace the humanity God has given me and you. We feel. We wrestle. We live in the middle of. We cry. We question. We journey. We are not to be mystics, emptied of normal emotions in the middle of brokenness and sorrow. We are not robots who, if given the right programming, can walk stiffly through a battle. We can not look at the death of anything or anyone as if it is not our enemy.

What we can do is see better, think better, understand better and in gaining wisdom we can live with fewer “erroneous ideas.”

— Teresa Klassen

There Will Be Lightening

5 12 2016
Mikaela's Suite in Vancouver

Mikaela’s Suite in Vancouver

Every day I have been thinking of how I can welcome our daughter Mikaela home. She lives 4 hours away in Vancouver and Christmas is coming which means she will hop on a bus and make her way here and I want her home-coming to be “merry and bright.” I have been working on little things she appreciates and planning some warm and welcoming surprises, because it delights me to delight her.

There is one thing missing though, I can’t flip the switch to an amazing light display. Over the years, the lighting of our house has dwindled off but if I could do it myself, you would be able to see our house from space…just for her. She loves Christmas lights because they are “so jolly.” As it is, I will show her our neighbour’s house down the hill, the one Mike says is a “show off” 🙂

I was reading Revelation 4 today and thought of this as I read about what John saw in the lavish throne room of heaven:

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[a] of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever…. (verses 2-9)

I wrote in the margin: “If you could, wouldn’t you?”

God is so extravagant, because He is. He can make a rainbow that shines like an emerald, he can have flashes of lightening and peals of thunder at will, a sea of glass clear as crystal if He so chooses and He does choose, and why wouldn’t He? Would it be better for God to be a minimalist in a white room with a plain wooden throne, hewn of repurposed wood? Or is it who God is to do what none of us can, to give us what none of us have ever had: the kind of wonder that will drop you to your knees without even thinking.

And this is where Revelation 4 led me. It seems to me, the response of the elders in this chapter is not mandated or robotic or even a conscious decision. I think, when one is in the Presence of something and Someone so inexplicable, you do what you have never done before without even thinking: you fall to your knees in repeated “awestruck wonder.”

And then I thought, “I LONG for that!” I long to be SO moved that it drops me because it is the only, only response possible. Right now, my heart deals with gravity: it can’t quite get there…it’s frustrating. Paul says all creation “groans” in this waiting time (Romans 8:19).

If heaven is like a pool of the most amazing perfume in the world, right now I am only getting a slight scent of it. If heaven is the definition of beauty, right now I catch just a glimpse of it. If heaven is a sound unlike anything I have heard, right now the notes are small and distant. Even so, these imperfect things often bring tears to my eyes because my heart knows, it KNOWS something is coming and this is just a bit of it.

My heart KNOWS instinctively it was set in place by a Creator who is creatively unrestrained, Someone who is so…EVERYTHING. My heart wants to worship, it strains to do so at the scent, at the sight, at the sound, within the realm of this earth that is not heaven. My whole body wrestles with the weight of this brokenness and layers of sin and doubt and pain and self-consciousness — even the joy of this life is ultimately unfulfilling with all of its “endings” — to fully experience worship with unrestrained thankfulness and joy.

There is a home-coming in the works. Our Good Father has been planning and preparing and…there will be lightening.

— Teresa Klassen

Up and Over the Rugged Terrain

14 10 2016

pathHello Blog. It has been a while. I am writing because my son Josh said, “Hey, remember that blog you used to write? You should do that again.” I don’t even know why he said I should, it’s not like he reads it. So that’s interesting.  The nudge nudged, and so I am stepping in the ring without further explanation.

Psalm 37 has grabbed my shoulders with insistence. It has interrupted me and will not go away. It has moved in and it is instructing me. I bring this to you, for your consideration. I don’t know how to set this up other than to say, if you are needing clarity, if you are needing the stairs to be swept so you can see where you are walking, Psalm 37 is that broom. If you are longing to move forward with confidence to find the next stepping stone and the next in the fog, or the next rung on the ladder and the next one after that, Psalm 37 will show you the way.

As I am writing this, a deer is walking towards me, down a steep embankment without a moments hesitation; without any hint of caution. It is the perfect illustration of what I am talking about. God can give us that kind of agility, like that of a deer; He can enable us to negotiate the rugged terrain” (Psalm 18:33 NET). Any rugged terrain.

Psalm 37 has some advice about what you should not do. It isn’t that we don’t need to know the “do nots” but if you already have a “cannonball wound” in your life (as the comedian Brian Regan refers to), or think one is about to hit you, you probably know how it got there or how it happened to you. You probably know, as Regan says,  to not “stand directly in front of a cannon” again, but what do you do now that you have that gaping wound?  How do you move forward? Psalm 37 has a list of  13 things “to do.” *(If you want to watch the Brian Regan piece, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-vKVVcw274). 

How can a person even keep track of 13 things?  That seems like a lot. That sounds like a heavy load on top of your burden. Trust me when I say, these 13 things are like adrenaline for the weary. They are the good words from a friend. They are filled with encouragement if you will grab on to them they will get you to the other side, upright. They are the lifeline out of the darkness and into the light. That’s a big claim; but these are not my words…they are the words of our good God who says that inexplicable good can come out of suffering, including joy and peace and hope and a future. So I am not going to package them, I am just going to present them as they stood up in front of me:

  1. Psalm 37 says twice to do this: trust in the Lord.  It doesn’t even matter if you understand this all right now. It doesn’t even matter if you are frustrated or confused about His ways. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what will come of all of what you are walking through. Repeat, and repeat again, “I will trust You, God.”  When you are crying. When you are tired. When you are afraid. When you are maligned or bullied. When you are embarrassed. When you are riddled with anxiety. Choose to turn your focus to trust. It might not feel authentic at first, but you are stating over and over again that you will not allow yourself to be dragged into the pit of despair. If everything seems to be in the hands of other people and their choices, if you feel helpless and lack leverage in any area of your life, you still have this choice to make of your own free will: trust. Say it out loud, say it in the presence of your “enemies,” say it and say it and say it. And somewhere along the way you will feel hints of trust, see where trust has brought you, and find more and more the results of it.
  2. Psalm 37 says to do this: do good. When you are in a place of weariness, don’t stop doing good. The enemy wins when those who follow Christ, withdraw. Are we running on our own limited energy anyway? Is the breath of God not in us? Does His Spirit become as tired as ours? When we stop doing good, we have resigned from The Mission, the Kingdom Building Mission He has called us to. We are snuffing out our own light. You don’t know what you are capable of. If you say “I can’t” do good, then you have defeated yourself. No matter how shaky that good feels right now, prove your faith in God’s abundant strength, the strength He will give you and continue to do good.
  3. Psalm 37 says to do this: dwell in the land. You may be walking through a difficult time but don’t shut down. The principal of the Sabbath is to find joy in the middle of pain at least once a week. The principal is to step out and “acknowledge” God, the one who makes your paths straight. Even when Israel was in exile, the Lord said to build houses, get married, sow seed. Live. Clean your house. Open your drapes. Make a good meal. Read a good book. Laugh. Have people in. Take a walk. Nap. Collect flowers. Build something you had plans to build. Wash and wax your car. Smile. Don’t let your adversary steal your life, God never gave it to him, but our Lord will continue to give you a surprising abundance of life in the middle of hard times.
  4. Psalm 37 says to do this: enjoy safe pasture. Don’t walk like there is something about to fall on your head. Don’t become skittish and worried, locking and double locking your life. The Lord is your Shepherd, His rod and staff are still able to guide you and comfort you. You don’t even know the number of times He has protected you so far, provided for you, and carried you. Here’s a news flash: you can’t protect yourself enough. Do you not know that He sets a table for you in the very presence of your enemies, and there in that place you will fear no evil? Don’t lock yourself away…enjoy safe pasture.
  5. Psalm 37 says to do this: delight yourself in the Lord. Worship. When you don’t feel like it, worship. When you are on the floor with sadness, worship. When you are shocked and stunned and speechless, worship. Choose it. Put the music on and lift up your hands — defy the liar, the enemy, the thief and lock eyes with Jesus and say and sing what is TRUE. Say and sing what is TRUE.
  6. Psalm 37 says to do this: commit your way to the Lord. That is, renew your oath. You are going to question and you are going to moan and you are going to be angry and you are going to ask “why” and you are going to feel guilty that you aren’t more of a saint. At the end of the day, commit your way to the Lord again. Remind yourself that you are His, and He is yours. Don’t give God the silent treatment. He knows everything about you, but will you say again, “As for me” I choose the Lord?  Do it, it is healthy for you to state your place again and again and again. Don’t give up. Later in the Psalm it says to “keep His ways” — that is what you are committed to. That will be your sure footing.
  7. Psalm 37 says to do this: be still. When you are in a storm, a tornado, and things are flying you are going to say things and do things out of pure fight and flight reaction. You are going to get caught up in the drama and before you know it you aren’t even thinking straight anymore. Stop. Stop. Stop. I don’t care if it is inconvenient or if it feels like you have the time. You have the time. Stop. Be still before God. Just be still and listen. Tune your ear to His Spirit in the middle of the disaster so that He can speak sensibly to you, so that you do not sin, so that your soul is being tended by the Master.
  8. Psalm 37 says to do this: wait patiently. Who says what you MUST DO and how you MUST DO IT? We get caught up in this urgency when we are in a place of pressure or suffering. Even when decisions are pending, knocking at your door. Wait on the Lord. He knows whether you need an answer RIGHT NOW or not, and He will supply you with what you need when you wait on Him. Consult Him. Go to Him. Ask Him. Seek Him. Don’t get all panicky.
    Be in God’s Word, every single day. This isn’t a legalistic or formulaic thing, this is entering the office of our Lord and hearing from Him directly. Do not take to heart the words of every single person around you who has something to say…go to Jesus, open His Word and listen. It is for you, He has something for you every day. Don’t wimp out and say “I just don’t get the Bible.” If you feel urgency about anything, feel urgent about this and find help — get online and study, invite a mentor into your life, and for heaven’s sake, be in fellowship in a local church and get connected to community. Why in the world would you do this alone? If you are disappointed in the church, get over it. People try and fail and stumble at everything, including the church. Jesus died for the church (its in the Word) and loves her. Wait on the Lord with other people who are waiting on the Lord.
  9. Psalm 37 says to do this: refrain from anger. Anger is a cover up for a pile of other things. You are going to feel angry, but then put the brakes on right then and there. Get before God and let Him help you examine it. “Refrain” implies being able to stop something. Practice emotional intelligence and let God examine your heart to see what is there. Don’t live in anger and kill your health (mental, emotional, physical) by swimming in it or hurt your relationships further. That doesn’t mean you are naive and unaffected. It just means you are choosing to not view your life through that lens or make decisions in that mental state. Again, be still and wait on God and let Him give you a new frame of mind each and every day and more than once a day as needed.
  10. Psalm 37 says to do this: turn away from wrath. Wrath is the outcome of anger, the action, the outrage. I could have made this a part of point 9 but no…you can seethe with anger which isn’t great, but anger happens and with God’s help you can work it out in a good way.  Wrath (human wrath) is when it flies. Remember that vengeance belongs to the Lord. You will ultimately not win, not have satisfaction, not have peace if you act out of wrath. Don’t add destruction to destruction. Choose to walk wisely, steadfastly, honestly before God. Wrath is explosive but in the flame-out there are only charred remains. God’s ways lead to life (*I should add, our wrath is very different from God’s wrath. God’s wrath is holy and is delivered righteously and justly and without sin. Let Him carry the responsibility of wrath).
  11. Psalm 37 says to do this: do not fret. Fretting leads to evil (37:8) which is our next point. How so? Fretting means you think you are the master, self-sufficient on what appears to be the positive end and on the negative end. Self-sufficient to make life good by yourself and for yourself, or to blame yourself and others when life isn’t good. Fretting is selfish because the focus is all on you and how you feel and how your world is impacted by circumstances. Fretting is trying to be a fortune teller, which God despises, because it means you are deciding the future based on the present…who are you to know anything about the future? Fretting diminishes the God of our universe to boundaries you set and believe in. Shall I go on? We are all prone to fret because we are all sinners. We all lower God and raise ourselves more often than we should. So develop a habit of stopping yourself in your tracks when you fret. Capture your thoughts. Don’t let them take root. It is a practice you will do over and over again.
  12. Psalm 37 says to do this: turn from evil. Tempted to self-medicate? Tempted to resort to revenge? Tempted to lie? Tempted to self-pity? Tempted to dabble in escapism? Tempted to compromise? Tempted to blur the lines? Tempted to just grumble and complain? When we are trying to find our way there are lots of things to divert our attention or make us temporarily feel better. Keep this “do this” in front of you and don’t let the enemy lie to you about what is going to feel good. Eventually it is not going to feel good and you will regret these actions. Be accountable during this time to a few good people who will see you through and to whom you are willing to receive words from.
  13. Psalm 37 says to do this: consider the blameless and observe the upright. This is about finding people you admire and imitating them. When the way is unclear, look for people who are walking upright and do what they are doing. You might not be able to trust yourself right now because you are tired and weary or confused and unsure…so be careful now who you are looking to. Be intentional to find godly people to watch and learn from. You will find them in your church, you will find them in other churches, you will find them around the world, you will find them in the Bible, you will find them in history, you will find them in books, you may even find them in your ancestors. Pay attention, and get in line behind them.

The wisdom of Psalm 37 is a light to our paths. It lifts 13 things we can concentrate on when we can’t see much else and are trying to navigate the staircase of our circumstances. It is what we can DO while we are longing for resolution in our situations or looking for the open door or wanting to know the way…

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to God. I pray that you would be strong in the Lord and not bow down to the temporary things of this life but would fix your eyes on Jesus who will bring you through to the end…safe pasture.

  • Teresa Klassen