Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pain and Trouble - "Just a part of life"

I am reminded of a scene from "Princess Bride" when Wesley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Robert, meets up with his true love.  He tells her, "Life is pain, Highness!"

There are times in life when that statement feels so true - life is pain.  The troubles in this world, the pain and suffering that we go through - sometimes it leaves us wondering what the point in this all could really be.
Jesus said in John 16:33 "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart; I have overcome the world."
 As I read through John 11:17-44 this morning,  I was amazed at the truth of that verse.  I have gone through some extremely difficult things.  So far, when I finish walking through them, I can look back and see the good that God has done with it.  Typically, I mention my teen pregnancy as one of my most painful experiences.  However, it built a bond with my husband that I do not take for granted.  It changed my view of the world and those in it.  It gave me a son who challenges me every day to be a better person.  It drew me closer to God in such a powerful way.  I was drifting, but having a son made me realize I could no longer afford to waiver...I had to be strong and firm in my faith so that my son would see God in all that I do.  I have absolutely failed at times, and have shown a lot of my selfish sinful nature, but through this God has shown me what it means to humble yourself and apologize for those errors too.

 I can look back and see how God has used a bad experience for good, just as we see with Lazarus' death.  Reading through the story of Lazarus' resurrection, I see Jesus in his humanity.  That is probably one of the ways this story is often summarized or remembered - Jesus' humanity.  Yet, it hit me so strong this morning - Mary came to him weeping, with a crowd following, also weeping.  When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews with her also crying, he himself was deeply troubled.  Just a few minutes before, he was talking with Mary like Lazarus' death wasn't any big thing - Jesus knew he would be raised again. It didn't seem to phase him at all. In the view of the eternal, the daily worries did not seem so big.  Yet, once he saw Mary's pain and heard the cries, it brought reality to him in an instant.  He felt their pain, and ached for them.  Yes, hope is found in Christ alone, but sometimes pain just hurts.  And so He weeps with them.  Through the passage we see it pointed out that Jesus was deeply troubled, upset, and crying.  Emotion is something we try so often to hide, but it came spilling out that day.
Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would raise again, then followed by saying, "I am the resurrection and the life."  If you believe, you will live even if you die; everyone who lives and believes will never die.  Then he asks if she believes.  Her response is so precious.  You can sense the comfort she found in Jesus' words.  She is brought face to face with the Eternal.  She is reminded that although it hurts today, she can focus on eternal things and the Eternal One.  She has hope. 
"Standing on the edge of [Death Canyon] draws all of life into perspective.  What matters and what doesn't are easily distinguished.  Above the canyon wall no one is concerned about salaries or positions.  No one asks about the car you drive or what part of town you live in.  As aging humans stand beside this ageless chasm, all the games and disguises of life seem sadly silly..." (from God Came Near by Max Lucado) 
The story of Lazarus is one that often brings comfort - we are reminded that Jesus sees and feels our pain.  Not only does he see the pain, He cares about it!  He does not look at us and wonder why we are once again focused on the temporary instead of the eternal; He empathizes with us in a way that others rarely can, for He truly feels our pain.  He hates death for what it does to those who are left behind.  He hates sickness for the suffering it brings.  He hates the fallen state of this world.  Yet He came - oh, praise God, He came!  THAT is why we celebrate - THAT is why we care - THAT is our hope!  Yes, He came...He came for me and for you.  He came to show us a hope that cannot be taken.  He came to show us life everlasting.  He came to bring the eternal to our every-day walk.  He came to replace the mundane with adventure.  He came to walk with us, love us, and show us a hope that surpasses all the pain in this world.  

In the view of the eternal, the daily worries did not seem so big.

I have seen pain work in such a miraculous way.  Our God is the only one that can take the pain in this life, and use it to draw us closer to Him.  He is the only God who can make something good from pain.  He alone can give purpose to the troubles and hurt in this life.  Over and over I have seen people go through such pain, such trouble, such hardship; over and over I have seen them turn to God and find joy, peace, and hope.  What god can compare with this?  Yes, our God is good - He is love - He is worth it all.  For in Him, we find all we need to get through today...
"All of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are..."

This is my hope in Haiti.  This is my hope for my family, for Chambrun, for the hurting people I see every day.  This is what I cling to - that one day this will all fade away, and all will be right with the world again.  This is my hope for you - that as you walk through the pain this life brings, you will find that in the face of eternal things, in view of the Eternal, daily worries seem to fade.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Weddings and a Funeral

A few weekends ago, I was invited to go to a mass wedding in Onaville. The date just happened to coincide with the day of the church anniversary celebration as well. This is a church that NVM planted in Onaville (largest tent city after the earthquake of 2010) and has grown considerably in the short 3 years it has been around. In preparing for the wedding, I helped Pastor Massillon with some of the logistics in getting wedding dresses and suits and rings for the couples. Thank you to all of you who were a part of that. It was really a special day. Six of the couples were all married on December 7. We were supposed to start at 7:30 am, but started a bit late because one of the couples had not yet arrived! The couples were all decked out, looking great. The vows were those we are used to hearing (just in French/Creole). But there was a lot about the ceremony that was not what we were used to. First of all, the fact that it was six couples all being wed at the same time was rather different. As a result, there was no procession of any bridal party or the bride(s). There was no unity candle, no runner, no one giving the brides away. Yet, in a culture where it’s ok for men to have multiple women, these  couples vowing to love each other exclusively and making a commitment before the church and God was such a huge statement. 
Though I wasn’t expecting it, I was invited up after they had all said their vows and was asked to pray for them. They all knelt down, facing their new spouses, and bowed their heads as I had the privilege of praying that God would bless their marriages, families, and that they would be a light and example to others God’s faithfulness. Church lasted another few hours (until 12:30) and then came the reception! We were honored by being served goat meat, but there was chicken, beef, fish, rice, beets, and all sorts of other cultural delicacies. There was lots of food and people just enjoying fellowship together. It was truly a day of celebration!

Then, just days after this celebration, I got news that an older woman in our church had passed away. In fact, Carmène hadn’t been at church that last Sunday due to illness when I was in Onaville. This little old lady was full of spunk. She was a short and tiny framed woman. Carmène was 74(ish) years old when she died, but she was energetic up to the end. I couldn’t help but smile, seeing her dance her heart out every Sunday in worship. She was a sweet lady. She would always greet me after church with a big hug and kiss. I was asked to do the funeral last Friday. Having never done one in Haiti, I asked a lot of questions of cultural importance. The elements of the funeral were essentially the same. However, the way in which grief is expressed in this culture is a bit different from what we’re used to in the States. It reminded me of studies of culture in biblical times. Jesus crashed several funerals where people were wailing inside and outside the house, with plenty of professional musicians to play loudly, etc. After the service, there was a processional march with the casket to the grave site. The church was not far from her house (which is where the tomb/sepulcher was). Along the way, others from the community joined the procession to the grave site. That paints the picture a little more accurately for this culture. Yet, the hurting is the same. People lost a mother, a sister, a friend. I preached a short sermon focusing on the fact that as believers, we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Perhaps due to the more “vocal” nature of this culture, it was obvious that there was indeed hope in the midst of the mourning.
Approaching two years in a new culture, there are a few observations that I have made. Sin’s consequences bring grief and sorrow in any culture. Death is a universal truth and proof of the fall. Yet other aspects of culture that are counter-biblical bring their own consequences as well. And they deprive people of joy and fullness. Jesus didn’t just die for us to go to heaven when we die—he restored our relationship to God, which starts in the here and now! And the joy that comes from knowing Him is another aspect of life that crosses cultural boundaries. We have rejoiced with people through baptisms, in dedicating their children to God, in marriage, and in a number of other ways where God was being honored and glorified. Regardless of what the cultural  customs and norms in any country, there is nothing that compares to knowing God and making Him known!