How deep the wound — How much deeper the healing

Prayer focus: 

Sarah Markley

Lord God, we give thanks for all blessings in Jesus Christ. We who live wounded lives have an even greater One, the One who was wounded for us. Therefore, He is the perfect healer for all of us. We praise you for your work in Sarah’s life. As she experiences your love and healing in Jesus Christ, use her as a willing vessel for your ongoing work of reaching the wounded and hurting. Give her wisdom, patience, strength, and humility as she writes. Bring to mind appropriate Scripture passages to share. And especially reassure her of your unfailing love and mercy in Jesus Christ, Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

Wounded People

“Wounded people wound people” — perhaps you have read the myriad of blogs, articles, and books focusing on this issue. Most often a true statement (thanks, Jeff). For this post, I want to move to the second part — the often unspoken, yet vital second part: How much deeper the healing.

When a person suffers loss, or abuse, or neglect, or abandonment, etc., the wound can be very deep. Many of us spend our entire lives either trying to deny the wound. Or we cover the wound. Or we withdraw from those who want to pick at the scabs of the wound. The wounds of sin run deep.

Sometimes the avoidance seems to work, for years, even decades. But a trigger event, sound, smell, touch will expose us to that wound. Sometimes we may not even connect the dots, relating to what is happening to what had happened. “I thought I had forgotten all that.”

The Wounded Healer

Jesus was wounded by others — in the ultimate way. He experienced loss, abuse, neglect, betrayal, and abandonment at the hands of…

  • Family (“For not even his brothers believed in him.” John 7:5).
  • Friends (“You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter denied it and said, “I am not.” John 18:25).
  • Enemies (And from that moment Judas sought an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:16).
  • God the Father. The ultimate abandonment was on the cross when He cried out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (GW) or more familiarly “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Yet, prophetically Isaiah prepared the way for even that wounding. Isaiah 53:4-6

Surely he has borne our griefs [pains]
and carried our sorrows; [sicknesses]
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

When Jesus was healing many people Matthew refers to this passage (Matthew 8:17). Jesus did this to benefit those who have been scarred, abused, neglected, torn, broken, abandoned, discarded — namely, for us. Through his saving work, he took our sins upon himself — the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), including the sins of those who have sinned against us. Our wounds have become his wounds. He was broken for our brokenness.

Even more, by rising from the dead, he demonstrated that he conquered them all. Every sin, every taunt, every slap, every fist, every tongue-lashing, every belt-whipping, every rape, every scar, every wound. The wounded One conquered and becomes the one who binds up our wounds (“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” Psalm 147:3)

So, the statement, how deep the wound, shows the extent of sin infiltrating our lives. But the counter statement, how much deeper the healing, shows that whatever depths of pain we have experienced, Jesus offers us even greater depths of healing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It may take time to experience the fullness of each area (fully in all areas when we are in heaven, our inheritance Ephesians 1:13–14). But the starting point is now, and it is complete in Jesus Christ now— by faith in him, not in my incomplete understanding, only in Him, the Wounded Healer.

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So who won?

If you look at web sites and TV shows regarding last night, you’d think that the coverage implied, no, demanded, that Miami won. Why? Well, look at the headline photos. So far, I have not found one that has Dallas [team members] highlighted. So what does that say? About sports, it is an interesting spectacle, whether you are a fan of Miami or Dallas. Confusing, perhaps to some.

But I suggest that this insight into the world of sports and media sheds light on the Church as well. Some Christian leaders gain all the headlines, on TV, on the web, whether for good or bad. Sometimes it would be hard to tell who is “winning” based on the media coverage.

In the Church, as outlined in the New Testament (and certainly foreshadowed in the Old Testament), the one who won is the one who lost, and the one who lost is the one who won. On Good Friday, it appeared from all the headlines that Satan had won, and Jesus lost. “We had such great expectations for him! He was only 33 years old, at the peak of his mission.” Yes, for all appearances, Satan came out ahead. But the quietness of Easter morning hid the greater reality: the one who lost (Jesus) had now won; the one who had won really had lost. Satan was defeated, even on Friday.

It took a while for that reality to settle in. In fact, the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost (last Sunday) signal a change in history, in the entire universe. The old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Yet, appearances suggest that the old has a strong hold on our present life. Sin still ravages lives, evil is the “new normal.” The one who does good is often penalized.

Despite what the headlines suggest about what is going on, Jesus Christ has still been reigning, sometimes hidden from our view, but reigning, nevertheless. The one who is in Christ (believes in him) lives in the momentary suffering, pain, and anguish of this life (Romans 8:23-24). But our lives are hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3). The world may see our sorrows and think that they have won. Other Christians may see our agony and declare that “we don’t have enough faith.”

Well, like the Dallas Mavericks in basketball, we don’t read the headlines, we believe the reality. The Mavericks are champions in basketball. We don’t believe the pre-mature obituaries of the Christian faith. In Christ we have already received the promised victory at the end. There is not suspense. There is only waiting for the right time.

So congrats to the Mavericks. But even greater congrats to the pastor who leads his congregation day after day, sermon after sermon, baptism after baptism, and funeral after funeral. The victory is won, and he know it. Congrats to the Christian who has endured what seems to be “unfair suffering.” Despite the headline of suffering, their victory is secure in Christ.

Pentecost (the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2) ushers in the “last time” (Acts 2:17). For that final end we long, we wait eagerly, but we also live in the present, knowing that Jesus won the victory, he won it for us. And we won’t run to the center court to celebrate — we will be taken to heaven and exult in the heavenly court.

Is there a gap in Christian music — In practice?

Availability of songs does not mean that they are used in worship. Part 1 focused on the availability of songs and hymns. I think this is where worship leaders and pastors miss an opportunity to minister in a specific way to people. Do our song and hymn choices provide the fullness of musical expression, whether contemporary or traditional). That is, while our liturgical format brings along the congregation where everyone may be, the songs/hymns also have to explore the fullness of the congregational experience (i.e. the Psalms experiences).

Lament

This has implications for traditional and contemporary expressions, maybe in different ways or choices. For traditional songs, sometimes the lament comes through a combination of words and music, often in minor key. Consider this one, while not in a minor key, still brings forth the true hope in the midst of trial. Written by Paul Gerhardt, here is the first verse:

Commit thou all thy griefs
And ways into His hands,
To His sure truth and tender care,
Who heaven and earth commands.

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/m/commthou.htm

“Lauxmann calls [this] ‘the most comforting of all the hymns that have resounded on Paulus Gerhardt’s golden lyre, sweeter to many souls than honey and the honey-comb.’ It soon spread over Germany. It was sung in 1743, when the foundation-stones were laid of the first Lutheran church in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], and again at the open ing service.”

In the realm of a perceived gap in use of contemporary music lamentis frequently the target. A friend (thanks, Kathy) shared this link with me to show that such music is indeed available. “Blessing” by Laura Story:

Laura Story, “Blessing”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ&feature=youtu.be

See her background on this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDiTuSLSJB8&feature=related

Is this usable for a service? Yes, indeed. Is this the only appropriate song or explanation for lament? No, but it does present another side of the Christian life that needs attention in both traditional and contemporary music — in practice. How many of us are there?

Joy

For the traditional music choices, sometimes the joy theme is limited to a particular style. Yet, even here the choices are available; are we using them? Consider the options for “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” written in the 6th century. Verse 1:

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest

Now listen to three possible melodies:

http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/a/a387.html

http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=61

http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lutheranworship/lw126.mid

Note that each has a unique place within hymnody and can be used appropriately.

For contemporary music, while there is much available on joy, I think some selectivity is necessary. Just because a song expresses joy, does not ensure that it is a doctrinally appropriate (this goes for contemporary and traditional selections). One example is “Center of My Heart” (http://larryholdermusic.org/center.html) In some ways this is an acceptable song, but notice who the primary pronouns refer to (“I, me”). And there is a problem with Law and Gospel distinctions relative to the Christian life.

Now to take another example, look at (and listen to) “King of Israel.”

http://songsofpraise.org/song.php?songid=166
(scroll down to see words and play music)

It expresses joy with a contemporary sound and contemporary lyrics. This song can fit within a Lutheran context easily.

Conclusion

This is by no means complete (nor intended to be). Rather, I hope that it gives us pause as we consider not only the availability of appropriate songs/hymns but also with discernment, using as wider a spectrum of music as possible.

And here is one delightful Orthodox Easter song that combines new and old.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuczNQonTXQ

There is one other factor for another post: sing-ability of song choices.

God has amnesia

No, not a headline from a web site, not a TV catch phrase to make you watch the next news segment, not even a tabloid exploitation topic.

“God has amnesia” comes from personal experience and some (painful) discoveries over the years. Over the past 60+ years, my thought was not that God has amnesia, but rather expressed itself in the form of two questions, “What were you, God?” and “Have you forgotten me, Lord?”

Yeah, this is so different from my usual posts. But in a deep way it relates to the heart of all the other posts. I hope you will indulge me for a little reflection on this.

“Where were you God?” when…

  • a friend died at 15 of a heart failure
  • I strove to earn my father’s favor or even a note of congratulation — that never came
  • we couldn’t have our own children
  • one of our children tried to commit suicide
  • our marriage seemed like we were pulling, but never in the same direction at the same time
  • one child was/is in prison
  • I made choices, finally grasping at straws, that were often wrong and with consequences
  • I grasped a last straw and it failed, too

Had you known me during those 50 years which encompass the above experiences, you might not have guessed what was going on with me. Why? Because I learned very early (like at five years old!) that I could put on a mask, a front, which shielded me from showing my hurt, pain, anger, frustration, and the unspoken “Have you forgotten me, Lord?”

I even thought I could keep myself from those. But that was the greatest deception. I was good at it, very good at hiding my inner self. Yet when all else had failed, then the mask had to come down. No longer could I hide.

Helping God remember…

I had gotten to the point where I wanted to reverse God’s amnesia, specifically related to my sins. After all, as I wallowed in grief and despair, I imagined and re-experienced every sin I could remember. And if I could remember, certainly God could! Well, God’s Law was certainly bringing to mind all my sins— his words of condemnation of my pride, my sins, my self-defense mechanisms. And I replayed every action and reaction and my “new course” based on what I discovered. But nothing could erase the sins and especially the memory of those sins.

That reinforced the idea that God had forgotten about me, but he had not forgotten about my sins! And that is the ultimate in despair. Either God had forgotten me or God didn’t care!

Few people who knew what was going on inside of me during that time, and so the loneliness hit even harder. Imagine, loneliness in the church?

God is cured!

In the prophecy about the new covenant, or better new testament, we read:

[The LORD declares:] “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”  (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).

In his perfect timing, God raised up 2-3 people who pointed me back to Bible passages that I had taught them over the years. Now I needed to hear them, for me.

With God, forgiveness is always and only one sin old. When I confess and God forgives, the sin is not remembered by him, not ever. “As far as the east is from the west,” says the Psalmist. When Jesus corrects Peter (Matthew 18) about how many times, it’s as if he is saying, “If you are counting forgiveness, that means you are counting sins, and not forgiving.”

I loved to read and hear the Words of hope, love, compassion, and patience of our Lord. The Lord’s Supper (Jesus instituting the new testament in his body and blood, Matthew 26:26-28, etc.) became a precious invitation to remember God’s forgetfulness about my sin and receive his forgiveness.

For God had not forgotten me, but he had forgotten my sin!!! It isn’t God who is cured, but me, in Jesus Christ.

AALC Pastors’ Retreat

c. 1632
Image via Wikipedia

Wow! What a week we had in St. Louis! Dr. Richard Eyer, Rev. Steve Unger, and Nancy and David Guthrie spoke about Pastoral Care and Care of the Pastor. Exceptional presentations, Biblically right on target, and spiritually and emotionally engaging people who are not afraid to speak of the tough issues of life without yielding to sentimentality or despair. We could not have asked for better presenters or food for thought. Watch for further summary statements in the AALC magazine, The Evangel (http://www.taalc.org/Publications.html — Nov/Dec issue).

I had reviewed one of Nancy Guthrie’s books on Amazon last year (Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow). I was impressed by her down-to-earth approach to suffering, which was reflected in her approach to Scripture. Having now met her in person and hearing her speak, I have even greater respect for what she has endured, but even more, how she holds herself to the Word of God in assessing all that has happened. In other words, the bigger perspective of Scripture overshadows our individual troubles and issues, no matter how devastating the circumstances.

Well done, Dr. Eyer, Steve, Nancy, and David!

Prison Quote

Cover of "The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-195...
Cover via Amazon

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!”

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008), The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617

Hearing Jesus Speak into My Sorrow – Initial Review

Special thanks to Christy Wong of Tyndale Publishers for providing me this review copy of Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie (and Laura Bartlett for suggesting the review program). I could not read this as other books, namely an academic review of a book in which I read as many chapters as possible in a short time. Rather, because the topic was so personal and emotional, I found that one chapter at a sitting was more than enough for me. My reflections, memories, and eventual praises meant that this was more than an academic exercise, it was life, difficult life. Thanks to Nancy Guthrie for writing what needs to be stated and doing so from one who has been there, even more, from one who has grown through the sorrow to a maturity that is hard to articulate, but which Guthrie has captured in this book.

Nancy Guthrie wrote Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow in light of her experiences regarding the deaths of two of her children. Her style is direct but sensitive, especially when relating some experiences with other Christians that could have produced writing that reflects resentment or anger toward those people. She skillfully avoids that pitfall and shows that God has indeed been working in and through her since all of the tragedies occurred. That takes time for anyone writing or speaking about personal sorrow.

I realized what a difficult task this would be for me in evaluating the book. First, Guthrie has experienced deep sorrow, two-fold. Any kind of comment regarding a specific point in this review may be seen by some as diminishing that truth. Such is not the intent, because having experience my own extended time of sorrow, I readily identify with what she writes. At times I was back reliving my own experiences in 1986, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2008, nodding my head, even dealing with tears at times, but also having heard Jesus speak into my own sorrow.  What a tribute to the author that she could effectively communicate in such a way to bring alongside those who have also suffered. I think that in itself is highest praise for her work.

Second, as a Lutheran pastor/theologian, I look at the underlying theology and see what is behind the content. thus, I am attuned to differences in theological expressions. For instance, I expected the author’s approach to be based on “decision theology.” From a Lutheran perspective this would be a negative, because typically such theology takes away from Christ and what he has done, which affects not only “coming to faith” but also how Jesus is viewed relative to our lives after that time. In other words, “Jesus becomes a model for us to follow,” which can be defeatist for the Christian, especially for the one in sorrow. How many can follow Christ perfectly? Rather than a relief, this becomes an impossible burden.

Significantly, while the author occasionally reflects such an approach, the overall thrust of the book is that she clings to that which is truly gospel, namely what Christ has done for us. For that I rejoice! Guthrie clearly articulates the gospel as strategic points in the book. For instance, in the Introduction, her pastor’s question at the graveside was right on target: “This is the place where we ask, ‘Is the gospel really true?’” (p. xiv). As she relates, the question reflected her own desperation and discovery, readily identifying with the hope that Peter expressed in John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” She writes: “Not having that hope to hold on to would have been an unbearable agony. I also knew that Jesus provided my only hope for coming back to life myself, as I felt the life in me was being snuffed out by sorrow” (p. xv). In her invitation to read Jesus’ words anew, she notes, “There is life, power, and authority in his every word. He speaks life into death, hope into despair, truth into delusion, meaning into futility, peace into panic” (pp. xix-xx).

Likewise in Chapter 1, “I, Too, Have Known Overwhelming Sorrow” Guthrie reflects this tension. “So many of the other ways I had heard Jesus speaking to me … were mostly about listening for what he could do for me. But in this hard place of grief, hearing Jesus was less about what he could do for me and more about the companionship he could share with me” (p. 3). She continues, “It’s in our suffering that we can truly begin to identify with his” (p. 4). Here I might quibble about the wording, but she comes back to the essential truth: Jesus for us, expressed in many different ways, is above all else.

The author also faced the seemingly impossible tension between God’s sovereignty and God’s grace. “I wondered how God could be truly sad with me since it had been in his power to cause things to work out differently. I think this is the wall that those of us who believe in God’s sovereignty run into eventually. And when we feel its full force, it hurts” (p. 12). I can certainly identify with that seeming indifference to my plight. Significantly, Guthrie comes to right junction, the intersection between the infinite, wise God and his plans and our own ideas about what is best can only be resolved in the cross of Jesus Christ. She continues, “It is at this place of inner conflict — where what we want and believe would be best seems to be at cross-purposes with the plans of God — where we need to hear Jesus speak” (p. 12). I have to think that she intended the double meaning of “cross-purposes” in this context.

Chapters 3 and 4 provide the clear expression of the Gospel because she recognizes the real problem. Prayers for healing become a double-edged sword, which she addresses head-on. “Those of us who do not get the physical healing we prayed for can be left assuming that either our faith is deficient or God is unable or unwilling to heal us or the one we love” (p. 24). The key to an appropriate response to this situation comes later in chapter 3, under the subtitle, “Jesus Speaks to Our Most Significant Sickness.” She writes, “Jesus comes to get to the real root of our problem, the cause of all our suffering and sorrow. He came on a mission to destroy what has brought on all our misery: sin” (p. 33). What follows on pages 35-38 should be mandatory reading for pastors, grief counselors, and every Christian, as summarized at the end of chapter 3,

“Perhaps what we need is not a miraculous healing of our bodies but a powerful awareness of our sin-sickness. We need to see our sin for the certain death it delivers — not just to our mortal bodies, but to our eternal souls. Only then can we appreciate the miracle Jesus offers us when he heals us of this fatal disease of sin.” (P. 38)

At the end of each chapter, Guthrie provides a unique way to express the key thoughts of the chapter with a short section titled “Hear Jesus Speak.” She takes several Biblical passages then makes them first-person narrative as Jesus speaking personally to the reader. She also provides a list of the Biblical passages used to develop this section. Not only is this effective as a summary, but it highlights the “Jesus to me; Jesus for me” truth of the entire book.

This is only the first part of the review, but I can state even now that this will prove a very beneficial to many people experiencing suffering/sorrow/tribulation. For the one experiencing any of this, Nancy Guthrie invites you to walk together to better understand this God who calls us to faith and brings us through the trials. The book is well written, direct, sensitive, Biblically solid, and offers a refreshing approach to a difficult topic. For pastors, this is an ideal companion to Eyer’s book, Pastoral Care Under the Cross.

Thank you, Nancy, for this important book.