7. NOW and LATER

30 03 2017

Chapter 6: Cracked Teapots

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 7 of 13 posts)

The story of Lazarus is perfect. He is the “average person” going about life when he gets ill. His sisters call out for help, but help doesn’t come in time. Lazarus dies. Everyone is devastated. Jesus arrives, but too late. Everyone thinks, “If only He would have come earlier! Why didn’t He?” Jesus weeps too, seeing how troubled they all are. Then Jesus approaches the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Wonder of wonders…Lazarus is raised from the dead! It is an incredible miracle! More than anyone could have hoped for!

What happened next?

Lazarus died again.

There was probably a lot of living in between, but ultimately Lazarus died again. The “living” part was not permanent. Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of death, in fact, Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of life! Do you think Lazarus never got a cold again? Never suffered a wound? Never had a business deal go south? Never had an issue with a friend or neighbour?

In this chapter of the book Edith points out that we can be healed from one ailment but still not have perfect health and certainly not everlasting life. Our path, while living in a broken and suffering world, will never be smooth. We see this when we study God’s Word. We see this if we study the lives of our ancestors. We would see this if we looked around now with more honest eyes and we ought to see this in our own journey and not be surprised!  As Edith points out, you may  have a lovely home for one part of your life and be in a concentration camp the next (121). Don’t be tempted into thinking anything else.

As I read this chapter I thought about how we need to be careful about what we set ourselves up for in our “hopes and dreams.” We should not live lives of pessimism and fear, certainly not! But we also must not “put on God” the expectation that He will make our lives now what they can only be when we are finally with Him. We should never demand what we can not have in this life…

“The ‘house’ which is our body will be perfect one day, even as the ‘mansions’ which God is providing and preparing for us will also be perfect. However, perfection is not promised immediately after we become the children of the Lord in this life. Sometimes people take the verses in Isaiah 53:5 — ‘with his stripes we are healed’ — to mean that right now in this life the suffering which Jesus went through, as He was beaten and then died on the cross, will heal us of our diseases in this life. As we read the whole Bible, we come to understand that God is not making that promise. Therefore, He has not broken a promise when Christians suffer accidents to their bodies, become very ill, have crippling strokes or develop polio or heart disease. Indeed, the day is coming when our bodies will be perfect. Indeed, Jesus died to make this possible, and He rose again and walked about the earth for forty days in His resurrected body so that we could know what a resurrected body is like. We will be perfect, but not yet.” (121)

A while back I was talking with some friends about how Believers used to hope for heaven a lot more. In church gatherings hymns were sung, sermons were taught, people looked forward to a day when they could put down the burden of this world! What has happened to that conversation? What happened to looking forward to what’s next?

I think the conversation died when we decided that now was better than later. That is our mentality these days isn’t it? We have slipped into the age of entitlement and the message coming at us constantly is that we DESERVE everything our heart’s desire now: loads of happiness and the perfect Facebook timeline. We have the means now to have satisfaction in what we have, more than ever before, because we don’t even have to save up for it! We can put a life on credit and “have the dream” we can’t actually afford.

So we live and breathe the illusion that it is ours and that it is good. We have technology that allows us to get around without getting lost, constant entertainment to keep our minds buzzed, we can divorce our spouses and get a better one without anyone being at fault, our grocery stores have EVERYTHING from every part of the globe, we have mobility, and medicines, and in Canada soon we will have legalized Marijuana so that we can live in a fog and not even worry that we are

“…still living in the midst of the ongoing results of the spoiled world, with the abnormalities which have come after the Fall…” (122)

We honestly need to recalibrate. We need to stop this. We need to step back and take one hard look at our terrain. We need to strip off the lies of this world, the seduction of it, and live the Truth: this is not our home. This can never fulfill us. We can cram in every decaying thing we think we deserve between the beginning and the end and what will we have stored up? Will Jesus say, “Way to go! Those acquisitions are sure impressive!”

We should be aware we are waiting for a better “later” while we are in the “now” so we don’t think that “now” is where it’s all at. When we have that straight, the amazing thing is that Jesus actually offers us a better “now” no matter our present circumstances if we will follow His lead!

When we intentionally walk with Jesus, He will show us a more pure pleasure now.

  • We will see gifts from our Good Father that we never saw before, would not have recognized.
  • We will value relationships in such a new and freer way: less jealous, less comparative, less biased, less racist, less bordered, less fake, less judgemental, less competitive.
  • We will marvel at Creation when the Creator Himself points His work out to us.
  • We will age well with less hang-ups, less anxiety, less denial about it all.
  • We will serve well because we don’t need to be served.
  • We will have more peace and contentment.
  • We will do good things we never thought we would just because we are listening better and trusting more.
  • We will have the joy of participating in supernatural things, things that moth or rust cannot destroy.
  • We will have a worship for God in us that we don’t even need to work at, because we know Him so much more intimately.

And when we suffer it won’t be soul-destroying! We will feel a lot of things, but we won’t be put under by naive thinking and false expectations. We will hurt, but we won’t hurt without hope. We won’t grasp at the empty things of this world, wishing for what we don’t have, and we won’t despair! We will lock eyes with Christ and walk through it with Him to whatever end He wills and even in that we will see His faithfulness. We will experience what the Bible promises, an astounding truth: steadfast joy.

And because of all that we will pray in a new way and act on those prayers in a new way because we will be free from formulaic thinking! We won’t think 1+1 ought to be 2 in God’s economy, and why isn’t it?!? As if God is just going to jump and do what we ask in exactly the way we ask it because we are so wise in our own eyes! We will trust Him to do what is best! Is His best to heal us or remove some discomfort? Or to work out some good through us not being healed and to have us remain in a hard place knowing He is concerned about “now” but He is also very concerned about people’s “later.” When we are freed from the stranglehold of the world, know our view is limited and His grace and strength is sufficient, this becomes a viable question for us.

And another thing comes into focus that Jesus is blunt about: it is what He needs us to do in the “now.” Through our own lessons in affliction, suffering in others will come into focus for us and will call out to us to respond in a new way. Jesus already tells us that not everyone will receive a healing…

“Visiting the sick means that there will always be those who are sick. Feeding the hungry implies a personal involvement with someone who needs human and individual loving care, not just campaigning for a change of the political setup…” (123)

Both for the person suffering, and for the person extending compassion and care, the Will of God is being carried out when we are freed up to respond, carrying the “gifts of the Spirit” with us to help and encourage those in need. Who knows what God is up to in those situations? Maybe our role is just to help that person overcome against the Enemy who wants them to turn on God! While we do pray for a change in circumstances, for relief, for healing

“There is great danger that an emphasis on healing can make some people hardened or insensitive to the gentleness and thoughtfulness and imaginative care they are meant to be giving to someone.” (123)

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Can’t you see yourself, loaded up with all of this and going out into the world to see where you might distribute it as a part of being a light, spurring one another on, and helping each other to be steady in our faith?

“We are to have no other opportunity of visiting Christ when He is sick. Does this hit us with a hard shock? He is not saying ‘Heal the sick.’ He is talking about visiting with the idea of bringing comfort and love…We should check up on ourselves sometime: “Have I sent the Lord a card or a letter or a bunch of flowers in His sickness this week?…Have I failed to care for the Lord in some person’s need when offered that opportunity?” (123)

When we begin to think of God’s PURPOSES in everything, the puzzle He is fitting together, we won’t see what God has done one time for someone, and expect it will be the way He will do it for us. Again, we can not see what He sees. As Edith says,

“We rejoice when we read or hear of what God has done directly in answer to His children, but we are not to demand a recurrence of an event in someone else’s life or of an exact combination of situations.” (121)

As Edith says over and over in this book, God is up to something, let’s follow Him.

So we will persist in prayer, becoming more and more familiar with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and we will not let any false thing embitter us against God’s ways. There is something we will know and that is

“Any answer to prayer that we have in the material realm is also temporal, and our situation can change. We do have a continuous unbroken thing — and that is our communication with the Living God and our access to His ear at any time.” (122)

The chapter refers to us as cracked pots, and this is what we are now, let’s be honest.  The Potter is holding us together until we get to our new place.  Until then, we must not “lose heart,” no matter what our present circumstances look like. No matter what happens, we will not be destroyed, we will not perish because of the powerful work of Christ for us and in us!

O Saviour, wondrously show us Your marvellous and amazing lovingkindness as we take refuge at Your right hand during all of the circumstances that rise up against us! (Psalm 17:7 paraphrase) 

And while we wait for later, let us fully engage with today because something is stored IN US  that changes everything about the now:

 

We have this TREASURE in jars of clay
TO SHOW that this
ALL-SURPASSING POWER is from GOD 
and not from us.
— 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

— Teresa Klassen

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6. Be Stubborn

28 03 2017

Chapter 5: The Museum’s Other Section: Rectangle B

“Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 6 of 13 posts)

Usually writing comes easy for me. When I feel compelled to write about something, the words are there. This chapter, however, stumped me. I started to write and stopped writing more than six times with long gaps in between. The words weren’t there. Last night I told my daughter Alecia (who is reading this book also) that I just couldn’t seem to tackle chapter 5 and I didn’t know why. This morning I opened my Bible to Luke 18:1 and smiled at the gift God gave me in the very first verse: “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up…” This, dear friends, is the theme of today’s blog.

Jesus is with His disciples with a very specific lesson He wants them to learn, something that would be vitally important for the future. Crucial. We already know the point of the parable before He tells it, that’s how clear He wants to be. There is no wondering when it comes to this story: the lesson is DON’T GIVE UP PRAYING. Wondering: if I have prayed about something for quite a long time, and I don’t see a change in circumstances, should I give up? Luke 18:1, totally clear, DON’T GIVE UP PRAYING.

Jesus tells a story, because stories stick.

The story is about a woman, a widow, with a legal problem. I think it is important to pause here, because in that day a woman was seen as weak and inconsequential. A widow without family? Invisible.  Both of these things did not put this individual in a place of power or influence. She was a person who could be easily swept aside. A woman. A widow. She had a small voice. She was alone. She was without advocates. If she had family, her son or son-in-law would have been the one at court. but no one was there supporting to help her in her time of need.

The widow had a conflict with someone who was actively going against her. Can you imagine how helpless she must have felt? I am not sure I can even identify with how terrified she may have been. I wonder how much anxiety she was experiencing. I wonder how many people had said no to her when she tried to find help? She was in trouble and she knew it.

She had two choices:

  1. She could let her adversary have his way and accept the consequences
  2. She could make a scene.

I have an easy time picturing this woman, because I think my mom was that kind of gal. She was normally a very quiet person, but if she was in a corner of some kind and knew it wasn’t right — she could get very stubborn for justice. Mostly, she got very stubborn with prayer.

I love the widow’s line in the NIV “Grant me justice against my adversary!” What a battle cry! I will write that on my wall as a reminder of a great line to pray, especially since our actual adversary is not another human being, it’s the Enemy, Satan. It’s so clear and so strong!!

The judge can hear her in the background and mostly ignores her, but she is tenacious! She just won’t go away. She stubbornly won’t let the issue die. She means it! “Grant me justice against my adversary!”

At first the judge waves her off but she is there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Sabbath. She is outside his house on Sunday and back at the office Monday again with the same demand: “Grant me justice against my adversary!” She keeps the issue alive!

The judge’s secretary is getting stressed out by now, “That lady is here again.”

The judge growls, “Do you think I don’t have ears?”

The secretary is like, “How long can she keep doing this?”

It is a sobering question. The judge quietly considers the potential of this woman never, ever, ever going away. She will be there in the morning when he arrives, and she will be there when he goes home. She will show up at his dinner parties. She will be on the corner when he goes for a walk. She is going to shadow him and she is not going to shut up, EVER.

He shudders. What are his options? He couldn’t care less about her or her problem, but he does care about himself and his problems. His quality of life matters to him and so he does what it takes, and gives her what she wants and not because it is the right thing to do! He just wants some peace and quiet.

She wins. One way or the other, she wins.

Jesus acknowledges the man was not a good judge. He even says he was unjust — which he was because he wouldn’t look into her case. The law and what was right did not really matter to him at all. Even so, in the end this guy inadvertently doles out actual justice and the woman gets what she was after.

Now, stop everything and think.

If that shabby judge did something decent, how much more will a fully loving, fully engaged, completely concerned, deeply caring, totally good, present and active and righteous and holy God do for us? Read Scripture. We do not have the kind of God you have to plead with, cajole, trick or appease. He is already FOR us!

Jesus says,

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice and quickly…” (Luke 18:6-8)

There is more to that verse but I will stop there for now.

We can get hung up on how prayer works and even come to the place where we think there is no use in praying (“If God is all knowing…what’s the point?”). Schaeffer writes that this is “a turning away from what God has commanded — just because we lack an infinite understanding. We are meant to obey His commands and admonitions to ‘ask’ as much as we obey His other commands” (103).

Jesus invites our prayers, He doesn’t say “Make your best presentation and then leave it with me.” He knows we have so much inside of us, bursting in fact!  We have a desire to COMMUNICATE and He has a desire to COMMUNICATE, so much so that “communication with God was important enough for Jesus to die to make it possible” (103).

When the Bible says you don’t have because you don’t ask it is

“meant to prod us into moment by moment communication in the areas of spiritual and intellectual needs, psychological and emotional needs, physical needs, the need for help in our work of creativity, the need for guidance, the need for planting and tending a crop and harvesting it — in our local gardens and farms, as well as in the realm of teaching or answering questions in the ‘gardens which consist of people’. We are meant to be asking for strength to go on, not just once in a while but throughout all our days.” (104)

Do all of our prayers get answered quickly? Luke 18 uses that word. It depends what you think an answer ought to look like? I know what I think it ought to look like: R-E-L-I-E-F.

I would prefer to not suffer. I don’t mind doing hard if I don’t have to do hard for too long. I like rounding that corner in short order, resolution within the week, relief fast. But if you look me in the eye and tell me I my prayers will not change anything noticeably and I am going to be dealing with some really hard thing for a year, the colour will drain from my face. If you tell me I will keep praying but I will still be in a fairly painful place for five years, I will have to sit down. If you tell me that I might not even see relief and resolution in my lifetime, I will tilt. Tilt, by the way, has a great definition in the (questionable resource called) The Urban Dictionary:

Tilt: Usually a term in video games (though it can really be used in any activity or hobby), tilt is an emotional state when doing the exact same thing activity over and over produces negative results. It’s an emotional breakdown and frustration of your hard work not resulting in the success that you crave so desperately. When you or someone is in a tilt state of mind, the best thing to do is take a break from that activity and try not to think about it as much.

I have taken breaks like that. I have sat around stunned, not saying or hearing anything because that’s what you do when you are tilting. Usually there is anger that comes along, and judgement and fear. How could God allow this? And in that place, the activity of prayer when it is not resulting “in the success I crave so desperately” becomes harder and harder to engage in.

What is going on with all those prayers we pray when we are waiting for God to save the day? What happens when we don’t see any visible change to our circumstances? Is anybody out there?

Edith writes,

“There is no promise that all our requests are to be answered by a change in the circumstances, because the Bible so very fairly gives us a balanced understanding that the faith which asks and receives the answer of ‘sufficient grace’ to go on without a change is no greater than the faith which asks and receives an answer whereby mountains are removed and cast into the sea. There are to be answers to prayer which demonstrate that a child of the Living God…has real access to God the Father and to His power to do all things.” (92)

Isn’t this the hardest lesson to learn (or is it just me that feels that way)? Am I OK with that “sufficient grace” while God does His work in the background? What if none of it makes sense to me?

I liked these lines from “The Shack” by William P. Young. He says it so well. This is the character who represents God in the book:

“…you really don’t understand yet. You try to make sense of the world in which you live based on a very small and incomplete version of reality. It is like looking at a parade through the tiny knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power, and believing you are on your own and insignificant. All of those are powerful lies… [you see] God as the ultimate betrayer, or perhaps at least fundamentally untrustworthy. You dictate the terms and judge My actions and find Me guilty. The real underlying flaw is that you don’t think I am good. If you knew I was good, and that everything-the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives-is all covered by My goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust Me. But you don’t.” (“The Shack” by William P. Young)

How true that is.

From some vantage points, God’s Great Plan looks and sounds amazing. But when God’s Great Plan is viewed from a place of personal suffering it is harder to be excited about; pain is painful, after all. Rejoicing in the Lord ALWAYS (Philippians 4:4) can feel like work.

I am thinking right now of John the Baptist, when he was in prison and sent word to Jesus, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” What a lot of weariness and discouragement is in that question. I am sure he never imagined that being involved with Jesus would involve incarceration and ultimately death. John was doing so well, and the next thing you know, he was in prison. I am sure John had a hard time believing this was a part of God’s Great Plan. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to come and SAVE people? John’s birth was a miracle, he had an incredible calling on his life, he was a powerful voice in a world-changing movement…but then he ended up in isolation in a smelly, dark jail.

I wonder, did it help John to know he was in the middle of a larger thing? I have been asking myself this too. When I am suffering, does it help to know that suffering is not in vain and, in hands of God it will actually serve a purpose? Does it help me to know that even if my prayers aren’t providing immediate relief to me in the way I want them to, God is giving me what I need to continue on while he answers those prayers keeping His entire good plan in mind?

It’s all a lot to consider, how John or any of us fit into the larger plan of things. In prison, I am sure John couldn’t wrap his mind around how all of this would look in the bigger historical scheme and when it all came down to it, all things would work together for good (as the Bible says in Romans 8:28). Good doesn’t always feel good.

Jesus’ response is so very thought provoking: “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.” This is not a scholarly and studied commentary on that line, but when I hear that line I hear something that Jesus might say to me today.

“In your suffering, in your confusion, in your questions…don’t give up on me. I know you don’t understand all of this, will you trust me to know more than you, see more than you, do more than you could ask or imagine?”

The fact is, dear Christian, we can’t pretend we didn’t know suffering was coming. The Bible hides nothing. The Bible is explicit in telling the stories of those who have suffered — just look at Jeremiah for example –– and in pointing to the absolute fact that we WILL suffer along with the suffering, broken world. Jeremiah described his suffering so explicitly in Lamentations 3:1-20 with every bit of pain and confusion and complaint one could have. And then…he stares the reader straight in the eyes and says this to everyone who would come after him:

21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23 (KJV)

Those are pretty amazing “last words.”

We have never been promised a pain free life. But no matter the road, Schaeffer reminds us that God has promised we will be given what we need to travel it. Is it enough for us for now to hear God say “Is there anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:26-27) and to keep walking with Him, and talking to him, not knowing exactly where it will all go?

What if we would step back from our “knothole of hurt and pain” and trust that where we are is OK because God is with us, and helping us minute by minute so that….so that we can persist in prayer and NOT GIVE UP. Schaeffer writes,

“We each need to be given the help of the Lord to recognize the sufficient grace and to not complain against him or compare our lot with others. We also need to turn away from that peculiar form of bitterness and unbelief which is mingled with the “Whats the use of praying?” kind of attitude. We will be tempted by Satan in his particular type of accusation which can take two forms…

  1. Attempt to cause us to complain against God or curse him and turn away from him because of our deluge of affliction
  2. Tempt us to take an academic view of prayer, excusing ourselves, by hiding behind God’s sovereignty, from ever asking anything in the wide areas God has specifically told us to ask — with faith as a grain of mustard seed and expecting changes in history as titanic as the removal of mountains. Both attacks are against the victory of Christ’s sacrificial death — attempts by Satan to spoil, mar, devastate and vandalize the perfection of Christ’s victory. And marvel of all marvels — without understanding it could be — we matter it in the battle..” (109)

Back to the widow. We, like her, are small and vulnerable in this world. But we have not been forsaken or forgotten. We matter to our heavenly Father. He tells us that we are part of a plot is so much deeper and wider and greater than we ever imagined and by “great” I mean large. Our immediate circumstances are significant in the history of our universe and in God’s plan of redemption and

“…a part of what He paid for was a moment-by-moment access for us to the Infinite God. Each of us has been given another portion in the fabric of history which our individual thread is meant to weave…” (101)

Jesus said we could and should ask for “anything” for this very reason and Schaeffer responds,

“I do believe that there will be a literal fulfillment of the ‘anything’ in the total collection of all the answered prayers in all space and time. It will be demonstrated that, in the total collection of incidents throughout all the aeons of history’s centuries in all of our lives (we who are the people of God and who have looked to Him, feeble and imperfectly, but with a measure of faith and trust and love) Satan will be defeated by some life at every place where his devices have been attempted….” (93)

The story I wrote about at the beginning of this blog applies to us. We cannot give up on prayer ever and “He asks us to remember that He is God and to act on that fact practically, not just in theological discussion” (109). When we are suffering, we need to be more stubborn than ever. Something is going on in the world, and our Father invites us into an even more intimate conversation with Himself during these times because we know

“…we affect history in the geographic spot where we are meant to be in God’s plan, and to have victory in the heavenly battle as we trust God in the midst of affliction and persecution right up to martyrdom, but we are to be having results two feet away from us in prayer — and also two thousand miles away…In what realm can one expect answers to prayer? In all realms.” (102)

And, as we walk and live out our faith — which holds us up in a way it hasn’t been challenged to in calmer times — we get even more persistent before God and…before others too. Psalm 78:4-5 says

We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.  For he established a testimony in Jacob…”

I would change that last line to say, “For he established a testimony in ___(insert your name here___” because that is exactly what He wants to do in your story and mine.

Again, read the Bible with eyes to see and ears to hear. In all these stories there are guideposts and mentors!  I love this verse about Abraham in Romans 4:20-21 (KJV)

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God…”

I love the language here, the more I read it, the more I want to be like Abraham!

“Put out your hand and grab hold. We aren’t going to drown! Instance by instance there is eternal purpose, and whatever is going on counts and matters in a perspective beyond ours…” (110)

There is so much more I could write about this chapter, but it is an overview and I can’t really do it justice. So I will end with where I started in Luke 18 and finish verse 8:

“God’s people cry out to him day and night. Won’t he make things right for them?…I tell you, God will see that things are made right for them…But when the Son of Man comes will he find people on earth who have faith?” 

There is the call friends, will Jesus find people here who have faith? The point of persistence with a GOOD GOD is not to convince Him but to keep us convinced in His power. We persist and keep battling against the attrition of the enemy and the temptation to believe we are all we have. We keep persisting because we are part of a collective of prayer on this planet. We keep persisting because we have no idea the broader effect of those prayers but one day will.

So…will Jesus find people on earth who have faith?

Let it be you and I.

Be as stubborn as you can.

— Teresa Klassen





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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 





3. When Everything Goes Wrong

7 01 2017

Affliction

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