Living in Mystery

Do you remember the Peanut cartoons? The old TV versions had a scene that played out rather often. Lucy would have a football. She would encourage Charlie Brown to attempt to kick the ball while she held it for him.  Lucy assured Charlie she would not move the ball. Charlie would buy in and back up to make the run up for the kick. Just as he got to the ball, sure ‘nuf, Lucy would yank it out of the way. Charlie’s foot would fly up into the air and he would land on the ground with a thud. As he lay there staring into the sky, his discouragement would be rather evident. He had been duped again.

 

Sometime ago I heard a speaker say in passing that “God is not Lucy with the football.” I had an immediate emotional reaction to that seemingly benign comment. I thought, “That’s it!  That’s how I see God right now!”  I was rather shocked. I know this is not true. I know our God does not do a “bait and switch” on us. I know he does not set us up for a let down. Our illusions do that for us. But still I was feeling duped. My emotions did not portray reality, but they did reveal my heart to me. As I have journeyed into my 8th year with chronic illness, I have wrestled deeply with God over it. I know he can heal me. I know he can resolve this. But he hasn’t, and it does not appear he will. I have felt varying degrees of “crummy” for the past 2500 days in a row. No exaggeration.

 

Some years ago I sat with a man who was providing me spiritual direction. I spoke candidly of my deep desolation over my chronic illness. The first comment he made after I had spoken for several minutes was, “I have never seen a conversion apart from suffering.” By “conversion” he did not mean coming to Christ as a new believer.  Rather, he meant a significant, inner transformation; a profound inner shift to a deeper arena of spiritual depth and insight. That statement alone ought to stop us in our tracks. He repeated it emphasizing the word never, I have never seen a conversion apart from suffering.”

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An Upcoming VP3 Gathering – Join us!

In October 2014 we hosted A VP3 Gathering in Banff, Alberta and addressed the topic of “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.” Scott Shaum (Barnabas International) cultivated a deeply meaningful conversation about God’s person, character and shaping work, our life experiences, and our deep desire to walk well with others through darker times. We so appreciated the time together that when we got back to Sioux Falls we immediately began to talk about how we might offer this same gathering somewhere in the States in the near future. This April, the weekend after Easter, we will be hosting this same VP3 Gathering in the greater Chicago area. 

A VP3 Gathering

Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering

April 21-23, 2017

Cedar Lake, Indiana

 

Little did we know when we calendared this retreat, the meaning it would hold for us and the greater VP3 community. Personally it has been an utterly heart-breaking and stretching 5+ months since Randy’s passing, but also a profoundly meaningful time as well. The Lord’s dependability has been over overwhelming. 

 

I am more aware now than ever that growth in Christ is never a simple, straight line from infancy to maturity. Finishing well as a person is a beautiful thing, but it is not an inevitability. There are many barriers and obstacles and dynamics in the world that seek to derail, distract, and discourage us from a well-lived life of “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).  If we are to persist at living well with the Lord and others, then we must bring to the table our best thinking and praying about living wisely and faithfully amidst great difficulties.

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We don’t “get over” it

82D07E67-F5C3-4DE6-9CE7-7854EE51281FAs I was thinking and praying this afternoon about the many different folks spread throughout North America, walking through The Journey process, being invited to seriously, honestly and courageously seek God’s gracious presence in the story of their lives, I was mindful of writer Madeleine L’Engle’s profound insights drawn from the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). L’Engle writes,

 

We don’t “get over” the deepest pains of life, nor should we. “Are you over it?” is a question that cannot be asked by someone who has been through “it,” whatever “it” is. It is an anxious question, an asking for reassurance that cannot be given. During an average lifetime there are many pains, many griefs to be borne. We don’t “get over” them; we learn to live with them, to go on growing and deepening, and understanding, as Joseph understood, that God can come into all pain and make something creative out of it.

 

(Sold into Egypt: Joseph’s Journey into Human Being, Shaw Publishing, 1989)

 

May you come to personally encounter God’s great capacity to come into your life and make something creative out of your deep frustrations, disappointments, confusions and failures. Spirit of God, be generous to us…

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A time for every season under heaven

hour glass

The Journey takes time. That issue makes some of us hesitate because we are always looking for quick fixes. But what are the results of “quick fixes?” Seldom are they long lasting. The Journey sets the bar pretty high. That’s what sets it apart, I believe.

 

We need time for growth. True discipleship doesn’t take place in a microwave environment. We need time for relationships. Our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with people all take time.

 

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Ecc. 3:1-8

 

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A cord of three strands

About 30 followers of Jesus gathered together last weekend. We went to a beautiful place (Banff, Alberta) to discuss a difficult topic, “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.”

 

We quickly realized that most everyone in the room was experiencing pain of some kind – from the loss of a loved one to challenges with children to unexpected health issues We were encouraged to acknowledge our own suffering first, allowing us to better help others, a bit like putting on your own airplane oxygen mask first. “I am always first a sheep. The day I forget that, I’m a fool,” said Scott Shaum (our retreat facilitator from Barnabas International).Marilyn Miller pic 09.11.02

 

Scott set the foundation of the weekend with a challenge to always being “tethered to the Father” – relationally, biblically and theologically. I like the word “tethered,” because it gives me a picture of never being out there on my own. God’s love and strength are available to me, if I choose to stay connected.

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians. 1:3-4)

 

Scott’s solid teaching connected with each one in the room. And as we thought about the many versions of pain we see in those around us, his words resonated:

 

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Living in Mystery (Guest Contributor–Scott Shaum)

Do you remember the Peanut cartoons? The old TV versions had a scene that played out rather often. Lucy would have a football. She would encourage Charlie Brown to attempt to kick the ball while she held it for him. Lucy assured Charlie she would not move the ball. Charlie would buy in and back up to make the run up for the kick. Just as he got to the ball, sure images-2‘nuf, Lucy would yank it out of the way. Charlie’s foot would fly up into the air and he would land on the ground with a thud. As he lay there staring into the sky, his discouragement would be rather evident. He had been duped again.

 

Sometime ago I heard a speaker say in passing that “God is not Lucy with the football.” I had an immediate emotional reaction to that seemingly benign comment. I thought, “That’s it! That’s how I see God right now!” I was rather shocked. I know this is not true. I know our God does not do a “bait and switch” on us. I know he does not set us up for a let down. Our illusions do that for us. But still I was feeling duped. My emotions did not portray reality, but they did reveal my heart to me. As I have journeyed into my 8th year with chronic illness, I have wrestled deeply with God over it. I know he can heal me. I know he can resolve this. But he hasn’t, and it does not appear he will. I have felt varying degrees of “crummy” for the past 2500 days in a row. No exaggeration.

 

Some years ago I sat with a man who was providing me spiritual direction. I spoke candidly of my deep desolation over my chronic illness. The first comment he made after I had spoken for several minutes was, “I have never seen a conversion apart from suffering.” By “conversion” he did not mean coming to Christ as a new believer. Rather, he meant a significant, inner transformation; a profound inner shift to a deeper arena of spiritual depth and insight. That statement alone ought to stop us in our tracks. He repeated it emphasizing the word never, I have never seen a conversion apart from suffering.”

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Hannah’s Honest Prayer

Susan (my wife) and I decided to tag team leading a Journey group in our church. Seven strong women (Judy, Jayme, Carla, Hannah, Rebekah, Andrea, Susan) as well as Seth and myself (we felt much less strong at times) made up our group.  Everyone who leads a VP3 group believes they have the best one, and that would be true in my case.  We quickly became a trusted community, learning more fully who we were as persons in the good company of each other.

Something shifts during the narrative sharing time.  And it shifted for us. A level of honesty surfaced from the fathoms of our lives…an honesty that brought with it stories of visions and broken dreams, accomplishments and failures, cozy places and harsh desserts, influential heroes and painful abusers.  All of it somehow used as tailored curriculum by the Spirit of God to etch out who we really are, and to prepare us for what is yet to come.

 

What caught my attention when Hannah shared her story was her written prayer–a prayer that reflected her courage to question and to confess.  Hannah agreed to share a part of her story and her prayer.  May both be a reminder of the One who draws near in those vulnerable moments of honesty.

 

writing

 

 

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A VP3 Gathering: Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering

Beautiful-Scenery-in-Banff-National-ParkAt our core, we at VantagePoint3 strive to be a learning and praying community whose life together (i.e. our processes, service, & team) invites others to vantage points where they can discover more deeply who God is, who they are, and what God desires to do through them. This October 24-26 in Banff, Alberta, we will be hosting a unique VP3 gathering that expresses our deep desire to both learn and encourage a more relational way of life and ministry with God and others. The theme of the gathering will be “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.”

 

Throughout the past couple years we have leaned into the importance of walking along side others on the journey, adopting more of a mentoring way to life and ministry.  As we have entered into these many conversations we recognized again and again that the theme of suffering,  and how we make sense of it, plays such a critical role in our maturing and mentoring. Growing up into Christ is never a simple, straight line from infancy to maturity. If we are to walk compassionately and honestly with others like Jesus did, then we must bring to the table our best thinking and praying about living wisely and faithfully amidst great difficulties. Consequently, we thought it would be a good time to invite people, who are interested, to engage in a conversation about suffering’s place in our formation  and in our work of serving others.

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