What happened to you?

Hebrews 10:32-39
Over our summer vacation, my wife and I read a book together.

As we traveled, we listened to “What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing.” This is an important topic for my wife. As a social worker, she is adamant about holistic approaches to therapy and healing. The book led us to consider what we ask about people. When someone acts out or repeats dangerous life cycles, our tendency is to ask, “What is wrong with you?” According to the reading, a better question might be, “What happened to you?”

Our experiences shape us in ways we don’t even realize. More to the point, often, many people have traumatic experiences early in life. And many never learn how to recover or heal from them. They just kind of move on.

I find this perspective quite helpful.

It’s not meant to excuse anyone’s behavior. But it can help explain it. Some people have environments that help build resiliency against trauma. Others do not. Over the years, my wife has taught me how to see people in that light.

Now, I don’t mean to impose modern psychology onto the Bible. But let’s see how this idea might take shape in our reading today.

The book of Hebrews wants to encourage a struggling Christian community. In some ways, they have lost faith and hope. The writer could’ve shamed them–that’s a common tactic some people embrace. Instead, we read something different.

Throughout the sermon, Jesus is the consistent theme. We can’t help but connect our faith to who and what Jesus is. Also, there are callbacks to people of faith whose witness we know. Many others we do not. And at least at one point, the writer beckons his audience back to their own faith. “Recall those earlier days,” he says. In those days, they endured hardships and displayed compassion for those in need.

In his acknowledgment of their faith, he highlights why they might be struggling now. It’s the “what happened to you” to their current situation. What happened was they were “publicly exposed to abuse and persecution.” We’d all like to think we would face persecution with faith and confidence. Perhaps we would. After a while, though, it could weigh on us. Our once-strong conviction might dampen some. Include a few more difficult experiences and you can see why someone might feel defeated or done.

Now, let’s think about what’s happening today. Why are people struggling? What circumstances do they face? It’s easy to accuse someone else of being faithless or backsliding. But have we considered how what they’ve gone through before might be impacting them now? Is it too hard to imagine that someone is dealing with circumstances right now that we do not know of or cannot understand?

God’s church should be that healthy, healing environment for people to find peace.

Does Jesus need shame to forgive you? Of course not! Scripture says we can cast our anxiety on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Well, then! May the Lord help us to see each other with grace and mercy as we encourage one another to know the love of God.
Stay blessed…john

No wonder we sing

Isaiah 11: 1-9
They are some of the most familiar words at Christmastime: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.

That line begins a passage from Isaiah 11. It’s a vision of the righteous king who is to come. Of course, the prophet Isaiah has much more to say about this promise. There are many passages we have from Isaiah that inform how we perceive the reign of Jesus.

For today, let’s consider two aspects from Isaiah 11.

It took me several years to notice the first I want to share with you. The prophet says that a shoot or a branch will come from a stump. Without paying attention, to me, that simply meant a tree would grow. But then it hit me. A tree will grow from a stump. A stump is the piece left over after a tree is cut down.

There’s no definitive answer to what that means. What part of the ancestry of Jesus does this allude to? This could be an illustration that speaks to different moments of Israel’s history.

For those of us outside that historical setting, there is still a lesson. It’s part of what we highlight at Christmas. “The light has come into the world,” Jesus said (John 3:19). He is the light, and the light is what we need to see in the darkness of night. Remember those words from the psalmist, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105). Not only does the light bring direction to keep us from stumbling in the dark, but it also brings healing.

We all have our stump moments.

These are the trying times, our moments of suffering that impact us deeply. Yesterday, I listened to the testimony of a United Methodist pastor in Kentucky. By now, you’ve seen the devastation from the recent tornado that hit that state and others along a 250-mile path. Through their despair, they’re holding on to the hope and joy of Christ.

That’s a powerful enough reminder for us. But Isaiah offers another vision of the coming king’s reign.

Somehow, this king has influence over creation. There’s no hunting of the weak. Children have no fear of snakes. Animals graze together and live in peace. How is this possible? The prophet says, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” That’s how. 

And if the king can reorder creation, then surely he can offer peace to you. Over the years so many people have confessed to me they know they need to get their “life together.” Now, I affirm a lot of what they mean. But what has struck me is the tone of that confession. It’s as if they dread it. That tells me that perhaps we don’t understand exactly what God intends for us.

The Lord’s desire isn’t to whip us into shape. That’s not peace.

God gave us Jesus so that we could have life in abundance. The program I use to write highlighted that last word for me. It wants me to change abundance to something less complex. I think that’s what a lot of us try to do in life, trade what God wants for us for something else less than.  The joy and excitement of life are learning what abundant life means.

Considering what kind of king we know we have, it’s no wonder we sing “Joy to the world!”
Stay blessed…john

The Night Song

I’ve been doing two things lately.

The first is preparing for our church’s Service of the Longest Night. This is a time I look forward to each year. It’s the longest night of the year and we use it as an illustration of our hope in God. We are waiting in the night for the hope of God’s light. Through that time, we seek healing.

The second thing I’ve been waiting for is CityAlight’s new song to come out.

I didn’t know those two things would be related.

CityAlight’s new song is titled “The Night Song.” The words speak so much to what we look forward to at the longest night. Have a listen for yourself.

Stay blessed…john