It’s odd to feel speechless with so many thoughts running through your head.  Please keep in mind that this was written on Friday, the day of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  I admit that I have become unfortunately numb to these kinds of things.  They are always painful, always tragic.  But the frequency of these events have somehow taken a bit of the sting away.

It may be the fact that my son will be in an elementary school next year, but this one stings a lot.  I cannot even look at the pictures of the families of the victims.  I feel sorrow.  I feel grief.  But most of all, I feel angry.

I feel anger on behalf of the victims.  I feel anger for their families.  Yet, as I look for a place to direct my anger, I keep coming back to…me.

No, I am not blaming myself for this event.  I am not saying that I have helped shift our culture to a place where these things happen.  But what have I done to change it?  What have I done to influence the culture in another direction?

I spend about 1/4 of my time at work.  I spend about 1/3 on sleep.  That’s about 7/12 of my week.  That leaves almost half of my time that I should be using to change the world by introducing people to my God.  It is my job to show people who Jesus is. 

But if I really spent half of my time doing that, don’t you think I might even make a small impact on the world?  Perhaps I could love somebody enough to influence them to raise their children in church, and twenty years down the road a situation like this may be adverted.  That 30 hours of adoption training standing between me and taking in an orphan may not look so bad when I think about how it may impact his/her future actions.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27 NLT)

Maybe I am just rambling or maybe there is a point here, I honestly don’t know.  I do know that I should be doing more.  More to love strangers.  More to take care of God’s people.  More to spread the gospel.  More to be like Christ.

In the meantime, though, I am going to go and hug my children.  I am going to pray for everyone involved and affected by the situation in Connecticut.  And I am going to invite God to yell at me for not doing more.  Feel free to join me in all of these efforts.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

 
Have you ever taken a road trip with two toddlers after their bedtime?  If you have not had the pleasure, and you are a glutton for punishment, I highly suggest that you do so.  I had the opportunity recently when I took my kids to their very first concert.  The plan was to drive down early, let them expend all of their energy at the concert, and then have them sleep on the way home. 

Oh, how I wish this post was about things not going as planned.  However, today I feel led to talk about suffering.

Gavin (my 3 year old son):  An odd mix of excitedly reflecting on the concert and fighting sleep, he is constantly whining and asking for things we do not have.  Refusing to watch the DVD’s we rented for the trip, he insists that we go to another concert, the mall, or even a gas station instead of going home.  The more tired and whiney he gets, the more he talks to avoid going to sleep.  He is a pro at this.

Avery (my 18 month old daughter):  Possibly a bit more slap-happy than her brother, she decides to turn her fussiness into a game.  She asks for a toy, and then throws it in the floor just out of my reach.  I find another toy to give her only to see it join its friend behind her seat.  I offer her a snack consisting of Teddy Grahams.  She literally bites their heads off and gives them back to me as she continues to cry.

Unavoidable…uncompromising…suffering.

When Jesus told the disciples to take up their cross, what do you think He meant?  We are often taught that Jesus was referring to the fact that we must be ready to die for our faith.  Just as He was killed as a sacrifice for us, we must be willing to dedicate ourselves to His work, even if it means losing our own lives.

I believe Jesus meant more than that.  If you read the story of the Christ’s crucifixion, you will see that it was not a quick execution.  He was beaten.  He was tortured.  He suffered greatly for a very long time before He proclaimed, “It is finished.”  The pain He endured cannot be comprehended by someone that has not experienced it.

So if we start to look at our call to die as also a call to suffer, does that change anything?  Isn’t dying worse than suffering?  People would be much more willing to suffer than die if given the choice, right?  Well, I sure wouldn’t.

Folks are often pretty quick to say they are willing to give their lives for something.  Many people are ready and willing to die for their country, their family, their friends, their faith, and in some cases even their possessions.  And I think most of them believe their claim to be true. 

When we think of sacrificial death, we think of a gunshot that leads to an instant death or jumping in front of an 18-wheeler that would be quick and painless.  We usually picture an unexpected situation where we make the snap decision to sacrifice our own life and then it is all over.  We make it sound as though we will have complete control over the situation.  We make it sound easy.  We make it sound convenient.  It's like Woody Allen once said, “Dying is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.”

Suffering, however, cannot be made easy.  Suffering means that you have to endure overwhelming pain and discomfort.  Suffering means that you may not know what the future holds.  When you suffer, you have no power to stop it and no way to control its impact on your life.  When some people suffer, in fact, they see losing their lives as a graceful option to end their suffering.

Jesus did not use His power to avoid suffering, but chose to endure it so that our suffering may be temporary.  So are you ready to follow His lead?  Are you still willing to take up your cross, even if it means that you have to suffer?
 
Don’t be skerd.  Do people still say that?  I didn’t think so.  Even so, it is good advice.  Far too often, we let fear creep in and ruin our plans.  Or worse, we let fear ruin what God has planned for us. 

When I was in elementary school, I rarely went to church.  Occasionally I would go with my grandmother to get her off of my back because she invited me almost every Sunday.  I would go, stand during worship, draw on scrap paper during the sermon, look down and draw during prayers, go home and continue on as if nothing had happened. 

There was one time each year, however, that I got really excited about going to church.  I absolutely loved Vacation Bible School.  I would get to hang out with many of my friends from school that I did not see much in the summer, play games, and enjoy some delicious snacks.  Good times had by all.

However, I remember one year that it was absolutely ruined right off the bat.  We sat down to do a lesson on the first day, and the teacher asked if anybody could name the writers of the gospels.  Since I did not attend church often, and I rarely listened when I did go, I had no idea what a gospel was.  However, there was a young man beside me that said, “Oh, that’s easy:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”  Instantly, my VBS balloon was deflated. 

Due to my own lack of Biblical knowledge, the confidence of another kid caused a degree of fear in me that paralyzed me for the rest of the week.  The words "that's easy" made me feel like I did not belong, and I had no business pretending as if I did.  If there was ever a chance I would learn more about God, it was negated by the hollow shell of fear that I crawled into.

I would love to say, “Hey, I was a kid.  Of course I was intimidated.  I would never react that way now that I am an adult.”  However, that would not be completely accurate.  I cannot tell you how many issues I have wanted to write about on this blog, only to talk myself out of it because I am not an expert.  Because of fear, I have chosen to hold back ideas that I feel are relevant. 

Because I do not have a seminary degree, I do not feel qualified to discuss deep spiritual issues.  At least that is the lie that I keep telling myself.  There are several of individuals that I consider to be spiritual mentors that sometimes comment on my posts.  Each time they do, I end up freaking out and trying to make sure I did not write anything that was completely sacrilegious on that particular post.  The fear that they may lose respect for me consumes me.

Fear leads us to believe that our experiences with God, our personal testimonies about our faith, are not good enough.  Fear leads us to keep our mouths shut, even when we feel led to share.  Fear tells us that without this or without that, we are nothing.  Fear is a liar.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1Tim. 4:12 NIV)