Category Archives: On Faith

Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is That the Right Question?

“Harbor me in the eye of the storm
I’m holding on to the love you swore.” 

-John Mark McMillan, Love You Swore

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The other day on Instagram I asked: “How come we never wonder why good things happen to good people? Or why good things happen to bad people?”

My thoughts were a version of that all-too-common question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” As if there was some chart in the sky where God is tallying checkmarks, balancing our actions with our consequences. This also begs the question–who decides what makes someone ‘bad’ or ‘good?’ 

Barbara Brown Taylor deals with a variation of this exact same question in a selection in her book, “Home by Another Way.” Taylor, an Episcopal priest, recounts a time when she sat in the hospital with a distraught mother during surgery for her 5-year-old daughter’s brain tumor. The mother lamented that she hadn’t quit smoking and therefore God was trying to punish her. “That’s why my daughter has a tumor,” the mom said. Taylor shared a bit of her theology about the way God thinks about hard times and tragedies.

“Calamity strikes and we wonder what we did wrong. We scrutinize our behavior, our relationships, our diets, our beliefs. We hunt for some cause to explain the effect, in hopes that we can stop causing it.

“What this tells us is that we are less interested in truth than in consequences. What we crave above all is control over the chaos of our lives.”

Taylor cites Luke Chapter 13 where the Galileans are arguing with Jesus about who deserves what because of their sin. Jesus will have none of it; people who die (or have tragedy strike) don’t “deserve what they get,” He tells them.  

(This) is a tempting equation that solves a lot of problems,” Taylor explains.  

1) It answers the riddle of why bad things happen to good people: they don’t. Bad             things only happen to bad people.

2) It punishes the sinners right out in the open as a warning to everyone.

3) It gives us a God who obeys the laws of physics. For every action, there is an                   opposite and equal reaction. Any questions?

“…but Jesus won’t go there. No, Jesus says, there is no connection between the suffering and the sin. Whew. There is no sense spending too much time trying to decipher this piece of good news,” she continues. “…it is not meant to aid reason but to disarm it…Jesus touches the panic (the Galileans) have inside of them… but (He) does not honor their illusion that they can protect themselves in this way, (but seems) to honor the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them. It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives.”

We would much rather fix things, understand circumstances, find a reason for the tragedy or hard time. The truth is, we are uncomfortable sitting with hard questions in our lives, especially as believers. We think very bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, but they do.

Instead of surrendering because we have no control, we look for reasons or answers. Sometimes there is no answer. And we certainly don’t have control. When things go well, it is all grace, and we should lift our hands to the Heavens and praise God for it. And when things are difficult, terrible, tragic, just because God is in the middle of our lives doesn’t mean it will magically go away. It just means that He is there in the middle of it.

My daughter Leah first introduced me to the music of John Mark MacMillan, whose song lyrics open this essay. (She also took the seaside photo.) Leah has had five miscarriages. (update below.) The loss has been mind-numbing, the pain too deep to ponder and sometimes God feels very far away. As her mom, it has been a heartbreaking journey. For my daughter, well, it’s been hard to face one loss after another, to say the least.

Music is an anchor for her and she recently told me, “Mom, one song has been my anthem during this time–Love You Swore. I keep repeating the lines, Harbor me in the eye of the storm, I’m holding on to the love you swore. I know Jesus is faithful and has my best interests in mind for my life. But it’s just hard and all I can do is hang on.”

Some helpful, life-changing occurrences have taken place on this journey for my daughter and her husband. But some gut-wrenching experiences have been part of that journey. If I used the good people/bad people, blessings/hardships equation, there might be some sense in all of it. But sometimes life doesn’t make sense. Instead of looking for a reason or shifting the blame or finding an answer we need to sit with the pain and the grief and realize that Jesus is right there with us.

Taylor’s essay continues, “When panic sets in and we’re searching for answers (realize) that torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there and it may hurt you to see, but it is not the kind of hurt that leads to death. It is the kind that leads to life. Depending on what you want from God, this may not sound like good news to you. But for those of us who have discovered that we cannot make life safe nor God tame, it is Gospel enough. What we can do is turn our faces to the light. That way, whatever befalls us, we will fall the right way.”  (from ‘Life-Giving Fear’, Home by Another Way)

We can’t stop the storms in our lives but we can rejoice that our Savior sits with us in the midst of them. And we can also lift our hands to thank Him in the good things. He’s right there in storm and the calm seas, with all people. 

**June 2019 Leah and her husband will be welcoming a baby girl at the end of August. We rejoice in God’s goodness and grace.

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You can listen to “Love You Swore” by John Mark here

“Home by Another Way” by Barbara Brown Taylor is available here.

 

Jigsaw Puzzles as a Prayer

Every year at Christmas our kids get my husband and I a jigsaw puzzle. This year Santa pitched in and we actually ended up with three puzzles–birds, the beach and kites–our three favorite things.

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Actually, this is the beach AND kites

A great Friday night date for my husband and I is to build a fire, turn on the music and puzzle away….a simple, quiet joy for us. (You 30 somethings are wondering which planet we’re on, I’m sure…).

The joke around here is if the puzzle goes on the card table on the day after Christmas, we can usually finish it by the first or so of June, when the ‘kids’ show up again for Father’s Day. Alas, we got a late start–one week into this new year. But, praise be, it’s a 300-piece small one this time–easy peasy.

Working on jigsaw puzzles got me thinking about tying up the ‘loose ends’ of this year and looking at the new one ahead.  How can I focus on what God wants?–there are just TOO MANY PIECES–the shapes! the colors! They all look exactly alike–how will I tell which is which? And I’m not sure what the border even looks like. Where are my boundaries?

I began to think of you, dear friends, some of who’ve typed me personal notes, those I’ve exchanged emails with sharing prayer requests, joys and some not so joyful times. I thought of the challenges we face, the aspirations, the daily-ness of our walk with Jesus.

Hence, this prayer about puzzles, a metaphor for our lives:

“Father, we give you all the pieces of our lives, rounded, jagged, ill-fitting.
We place the ideas, dreams and desires,
the want-to’s and the need-to’s,
the prayers for family and friends,
the cries of our heart to follow you, into your hands.
 
Show us the puzzle frame, Father.  And remind us that YOU are the designer. 
 
Help us to pick up one piece at a time, one day at a time.
 
Show us how to consider each one well, notice the round edges,
observe the ways it could work–‘maybe over here?’ ‘maybe over there?’
 
Remind us that it takes time to make something beautiful, so that everything fits in place.
 
Whisper whenever we need it, the words telling us we will not be finished with x y z in a week, or a month. Maybe not even this year.
For we may need to ponder and puzzle over the fragments more than once,
laying them down and picking them up with a fresh look the next day.
 
Remind us Father, that when we surrender everything
lay it all out on the table
that YOU can take it and make it into
something beautiful in your time.
Amen.”
Philippians 3:13,14
“(this) one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,   
    I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
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This is an edited version of a post originally written in January 2013. HT Jennifer Ferguson and The Knot Project, talking about puzzles. Some truths are still so very truthy.

Living the Season Well Goes Viral {sorta}

Dear friends,

I have been so grateful for the response to my book Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.** It’s a little bit amazing to me and exciting as well. All the readers that are finding the message about slowing down and simplifying Christmas have a way to more peace and joy this year and that makes me happy.

Getting free of the “shoulds” always helps.

A slow, small start to Christmas begins with Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was December 3rd. It’s not too late to mark the days by slowing down your Sundays and your celebrations.

While you’re preparing your hearts, your heads and your homes here are the places I’ve had a chance to talk about Living the Season Well–and every one of them goes live the same day–December 5th.  When it snows, it pours, eh?

Little bits of joy in different places–read and listen at your leisure.

Merry Christmastide, friends.

**$4.99 for the Kindle this week on Amazon. Yay!

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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“holiness is the chief beauty of grace.”

Andrew Murray, Abiding in Christ

I’ve run out of any original thoughts this week, my friends. They seem to have all run out from my brain through my fingertips while I talk about the little book I wrote.

Until next week….stay close to Jesus.

-Jody

Why I Stopped Having ‘Quiet Time’ {for all the right reasons}

“…the resolving of the conflict between sacred and the secular (or, better said, the repairing of the damage done by divorcing them) has been billed as the major problem of modern theology.”

-Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, 1967

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The writer of those words penned his thoughts 50 years ago, and while the current world of practicing Christians may have different theological problems, I think Capon’s got a point. I have looked high and low in my Bible the last few years and I can’t find any mention where believers are encouraged to develop a daily “quiet time” or spend time having “devotions.” There is no mention in Scripture of a particular time of day that is more sacred than any other—so why do we make the separation?

Now, before you go yelling at me through your screen or hitting the ‘delete’ button faster than bees buzz, let me say this, yes: we ARE urged to study to show ourselves approved indeed. Don’t get me wrong; I know God’s word is my daily bread and living water, I need spiritual food like I need physical food, like I need air to breathe. And yes, Jesus modeled for us how to get alone in a quiet place and pray.

But we get into all kinds of unnecessary shoulding all over ourselves when we say, “First thing in the morning you must meet with Jesus, read God’s word, pray and write in your journal. THEN you can head into your day.”

In God’s kingdom all of time is sacred.  When we belong to Jesus, all of our life is sacred.

If your ‘day’ begins at 3:30 in the morning because you work as a cameraperson for a television station, like my worship team, bass-playing friend K, I’m guessing it’d be hard for her to fit in a ‘quiet time’ first thing in the morning. Then there’s the barista at the local coffee shop, pulling espresso shots for all the weary folks heading into their mornings. (Raising my hand. Espresso-drinker, not barista). How does said barista balance the want-to of a time with Jesus with the have-to of a job?

And what if you’re not a morning person?  What if when you wake up, there’s 6 things on the to-do list that must be out of the way before you can even t h i n k  about a set-aside time to focus and settle in and listen to Jesus? Things like getting your kids off to school on time or cleaning the kitchen floor or paying the bills or writing an email or calling your mom?

When we do come to a more focused part of our day—whether 4:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.—we can look at it, as my pastor recently said, not like a “quiet time” but a listening time. A time of coming and settling in before God’s presence, whether it’s only 10 or 15 minutes. (Many days, that’s all I’ve got).

We talk about active listening being the better part of communication; it is the same when it comes to our time with the Lord. Listening half the time, writing ¼ of the time and talking (praying) the other ¼.

That attitude of listening time translates to a more balanced living time, where there’s no division in our days. Scripture’s clearest model is to walk in an integrated way—spirit and soul inside lined up with our actions on the outside.

We have much to learn, not for knowledge sake, but to show that what we know about Jesus makes a difference in the way we live.

I think we forget the Apostle Paul’s admonitions about walking in the word or John’s encouragement to abide in Jesus. Walking, abiding (or dwelling) are continuous, ongoing states of being. Even the Pentateuch reminds us as we “lie down and get up and when we walk along the road, that we are to teach our children.” (Deuteronomy 11:19). We can only teach our children what we already know, and this makes it clear–God knows a lot of our lives we are on the move. Moving in the car, going on a walk, strolling through the store….teaching/talking/singing to and with your spouse, your kids, your friends.

Here’s what I know is true about spending time with God: He doesn’t care WHEN we come to be with Him, but THAT we do. 

How about you? When do find time to be with God? What does that look like for you?

Please share in the Comments. I would love to hear.

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I think it’s interesting I would be writing this post now, as if God wanted to remind what I wrote exactly four years ago for (in)courage. I guess I needed to hear this as much as anyone else. 

Linking with Jennifer Lee and the community at Tell His Story. More great essays over there! 1c9ac-tellhisstory-badge

When the World is Broken Along With my Heart

I hardly know where to begin these days, to write down my heart’s cry and soul’s sigh.

The world is splintering, shattering it seems, on every side. All I can do is re-center myself with a song. Thank you to my friend Laurie Klein for the nudge.

Here’s “Alleluia” by Fernando Ortega from the Odes of Solomon CD–Ode #40. It’s actually a YouTube link; there’s over an hour’s worth of his worship music. Good for the soul, I promise.

That’s all I have this week friends.

Peace.