Category Archives: Suffering

2011 Arizona Bible Conference

For awhile it was touch-and-go as to whether I would be able to actually attend this year’s Arizona Robert McLaughlin Ministries Bible Conference held at the Doubletree Hotel (about a mile from my house) with all that was going on with my mother, but the Lord worked it out and I not only got to attend every session, but also went to lunch with friends from out-of-town one day and hung around for several fruitful conversations on the other days.

And I was absolutely blown away by the conference’s theme this year: Suffering.

Or, to be more specific, “The positive outlook toward suffering that all Believers can have, depending on their attitude toward that suffering.”

 Well, the timing of that subject could hardly be more appropriate. Pastor had mentioned that suffering was going to be the subject some weeks back, but I’d totally forgotten until I sat there in my conference chair and watched the words flash onto the screen. It blew me away. It felt like God speaking directly to me.

And of course He was. Here are some of the lines that especially stood out for me as recorded (and thus sometimes paraphrased) in my notes:

When we’re suffering, we have a desire for a finale — any finale. “God! Just let it stop!” And God said, “No, I won’t let it stop!”

In processing pain, we must identify what thoughts drive us. What thoughts are driving you? Pain and bitterness?  

How well are you caring for yourself?

How much are you surrounding yourself  with people who are feeding you? 

How much power do you give to people who don’t care about you?

You’re not weak when you’re hurting — you’re hurting.

God called me specifically to handle this. And in it I “could see God’s hand in the situation, moving the chess pieces as only He could.

At times it seemed like Bible Doctrine did not help. No. Of course it helped, we just don’t always use it. We let it sit on the shelf while ascribing to the Satanic view of suffering — that it’s punishment.

Or — my thoughts here now — that it’s wrong. That it shouldn’t be.  It’s that old concept from Star Wars — something is disturbing the Force. Something is wrong. It must be righted. In fact, that’s pretty much what novel structure is about. You start out writing, showing the protagonist in his status quo, where everything is right or at least comfortable or tolerable. Then you throw in something that stirs everything up, injustice, loss, pain, violence… and from there on the protagonist sets himself to solve the problem and set everything to right.

We watch that pattern unfold in countless movies. Sometimes, the protagonist finds that he cannot set things right because life just isn’t fair. I don’t like those kinds of movies. Sometimes the protag finds that he could set things “right” but the price he’d have to pay is too great, and he decides to live with the new reality, because again, life stinks, really, when you get down to it. I don’t particularly like those kinds of movies either.

Our culture decries any sort of problem, tragedy or suffering. The news is constantly telling us about something that went wrong, and then everyone wrings their hands trying to figure out how to make sure it never happens again.

A little girl, riding a familiar horse in a rodeo parade for the first time is killed in a not-particularly-freakish accident  when you consider that horses are involved. Now everyone is investigating! Oooh! How can we avoid this! How can we make sure this never happens again.

A loon guns down a congresswoman and several others in a Safeway parking lot… oooh! How can we make sure this never happens again?! I know! We’ll take away all the guns. We’ll insist that everyone speak nicely to one another and never disagree.

Don’t eat this, don’t do that, don’t go there, make sure you use your seatbelt, get a flu shot, stop smoking… and on and on. Our entire society is suffering-averse. Consider it a blessing? Consider it an honor? Consider it something we need? Are you nuts?

But it is. Adversity plays a major role in our lives, said Pastor Bob last weekend, because suffering is like a parent. How? What responsible parents do for children, suffering does for the adult. Suffering challenges us to learn to use the divine assets God’s given us.

In a way, it’s like learning to play golf by reading a book, or listening to lectures. Maybe even watching others play. That’s all fine and good, and part of the process, but you’ll never really learn to play if you don’t go out and swing that club!

You can say you are ready to die, are not afraid of it at all, since you’ll be going to heaven, meeting your Lord, etc, but until you actually face death, you’ll never know if you are or not.

More than that, one of the most important ways we bring Glory to God is by trusting Him. How can we do that if we never have to endure hardship, uncertainty, loss, pain? What’s the big deal about trusting God is everything is going well?  Elisabeth Elliot said, “Faith only works in the dark.” Very true.

Helen Keller said, “Character can’t be developed in ease and quiet. Only in experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

And the word of God elevates suffering to the same level of importance of salvation itself. Both are considered a gracious gift.

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

If you’d like to listen to the messages from the conference you can find them at Barah Ministries for the time being, though I expect they should be up at the RMBM website shortly.

Thanksgiving Turkey

One of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s earliest points in The Black Swan regarding the difficulties of prediction resides with the Thanksgiving turkey. Though Taleb is specifically addressing the inadequacy of using the present and even the past to predict the future, his discourse stimulated lots of branching thoughts for me that had little to do with his original point…

First though, Taleb’s point: For the first 1000 days of a hypothetical Thanksgiving turkey’s life, he is protected, cared for, fed, and treated kindly. Looking at days 1 – 1000 of his life, neither the turkey nor an uninformed observer would have reason to think his life would not continue as it has. But then on day one thousand and one (which this year would be November 26) something utterly unexpected and disastrous befalls the turkey. He experiences a very negative Black Swan event.

Thus Taleb illustrates the fallacy of relying on past observed data to make accurate future predictions, a practice that people seem to do all the time, particularly, says he, in economics, where they add insult to injury by making their faulty predictions with great authority and conviction. Just one among many flaws of the cosmic or worldly what of thinking, and a valid point… but not where the turkey illustration led me.

Let’s go back to the farmer who, of course, knows what he has planned. It’s the turkey who’s out of the loop. The comparison of the turkey’s relationship with the farmer and ours with God is unavoidable. You might argue that God would never do such a nasty thing as the farmer did to the turkey — raising us up and caring for us just to eat us! Well, of course He’s not going to eat us, but there are similarities nevertheless.

The farmer has plans and purposes that go far beyond the turkey’s simple life and understanding. He is raising the turkey to feed his family, to provide for their sustenance, nourishment, pleasure and blessing. The Thanksgiving turkey has become an icon of God’s blessing Americans in the warmth and closeness of family, and in celebration of the struggles, faith, needs and provisions for the people that began this great nation. And the freedom we still enjoy.

The turkey has to die, has to be consumed for the farmer’s (father’s?) purpose to be fulfulled. So it is with our Lord, the Father’s beloved Son, and so it will be for us as believers, followers who walk after the pattern established by the Son. There must be death for life to follow.

He who seeks to save his life will lose it; the one who loses his life will find it.

The farmer allows the turkey to continue in ignorance of his plans, first because the bird would be unable to understand his attempts to communicate them (even if the farmer came into the pen everyday and chased the turkey around with an axe, he’d only scare the creature not convey any sense of purpose), and second, even if he could, such plans would only frighten and distress the creature, producing a skinny bird and an unsatisfactory Thanksgiving meal.

Most of God’s people are in an uncannily parallel situation to the turkey. If they knew all the trials that were going to come their way, they would only live in fear and distress and probably go insane from the pressure, not fulfilling His plan at all. Therefore, most are left in the pen, relying on the notion that since yesterday passed without disaster, tomorrow will as well.

But it is not God’s desire for us to be out of the loop like a Thanksgiving turkey, pecking and scratching and gobbling about our pens in ignorance until the big Black Swan blindsides us. No, He may not want us to know specifically what’s ahead, but  His word undeniably warns us there will be suffering, undeserved and deserved, in our futures . “Momentary light affliction is part of His plan for us. And if we learn His Word, make it part of our thinking, it will enable us to handle whatever suffering we have to face. The Black Swan event may be surprising, but not unexpected, and it will be something through which we can be assured we will see God’s hand and wisdom and grace.

His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. We can’t know them apart from knowing His word, and I don’t mean a casual superficial knowledge, I mean really knowing it, digging deep, learning constantly from a prepared pastor. Such knowledge produces the capacity to receive greater knowledge, deeper knowledge, until we reach a point where it’s impossible for us to perceive the Black Swan’s that God places in our lives (has placed in eternity past, actually) as anything but positive and right.

Turkey image by – valuestockphoto

A Few Small Brushstrokes

Yesterday I wrote a bit about my mother’s resistance to being rehabilitated, which perhaps had caused her therapists to see her in a light not entirely accurate. Because, for all her resistance and fears and stated distrust, in the end she’s done pretty much everything they’ve suggested she do, and even a lot of the things I’ve suggested she do. (She’s even gone into the pool twice now and has decided she likes that part best of any of it!)

Then today, God provided her that bit of validation of her effort and suffering I had hoped for yesterday, as we both suddenly realized that she can now pull her foot directly under her knee when she sits in a chair, something she had not previously been able to do. She also noted she’d had a much easier time getting into the car when we went to her radiation appointment than she’s had in a long while. So clearly there’s been progress, and progress she can feel.

Even better, the physical therapist responded to an email I’d  sent him Sunday night regarding her continuing inability to move her leg though she is trying hard. He said he’s thinking now that the radiation treatments she’s been getting might be causing her muscle weakness (that muscle is right next to the bone that’s being irradiated). He wanted to know what kind of radiation they’re treating her with and her radiation oncologist is going to contact him directly about it. So it looks like they’re dropping the “you’re not trying hard enough” line and moving on to other methods of treatment.(Thank you, Lord! Amazing how He can turn things around with just a few small strokes of His brush.)

Not to say the path is clear ahead of us, just that for today we both had a bit of a respite and things look much brighter than they did on Thursday night.

Pain and Rehab

Well, my days continue to be chock full of tasks and responsibilities as I continue to help my mother with her rehab, and take her to her radiation treatments (Only three of the latter left. Hooray!)  as well as tend to other responsibilities — as much as I can, anyway.

Rehab continues to be a struggle for my mother. Not only does she not understand why it’s necessary, she doesn’t believe the physical therapists and doctors know what they’re talking about. In fact, now that the exercises have started to make her sore and stiff, she’s REALLY not sure any of this is necessary, despite the fact I’ve explained it to her numerous times and so have the physical therapists.  But when I suggested we could simply stop today if she really didn’t want to do it any more, she decided that she would keep on with it.

Hopefully she’ll begin to get some solid validation for her efforts and suffering before too much longer.

On Thursday she met with her main PT. He got her started on an exercise bicycle then cornered me to ask how she was doing. Well, I thought she had progressed and was doing better, but I was wrong. He was shocked at how little progress she’d made, and “very concerned.” The next thing I knew both he and his assistant were confronting me, shaking their heads, saying they had expected much more improvement and that if she didn’t begin to show some significant changes, they would have to kick her out of the program. I stood there looking at them like  a deer caught in headlights.

They thought she was refusing to try hard because of her fear of the pain, which could well be the case. They describe her in their notes as cautious, fearful, reluctant and afraid of the pain. All of which are true. She didn’t want to go into the pool because she’s afraid of the water and told them so very plainly. She didn’t want to get on the exercise bike because it was scary and made her very uneasy, which she freely communicated (though she did get on it). She doesn’t want to use an electric heating pad because those are scary (but she used one). She doesn’t know if she wants ice on her knee or not, or heat or not, or electrical muscle stimulation or not (but she accepts whatever I suggest she do). She tells them she doesn’t want to use a cane because it feels weird and unstable and she’d rather walk without anything. She orders people not to touch her leg (though they do anyway), orders them not to manipulate it (and they do anyway), makes terrible faces as if she’s in great pain when they do, and gets plainly irritated when they ask her questions about how she feels and what is her level of pain. She tells them she doesn’t know and can’t answer.  

But then, she IS almost 82. I guess being crotchety about it all isn’t that out of the ordinary for someone who’s 82 and never really been ill or helpless or had to answer all these questions about how she feels and what’s the pain like, and where does it hurt…  In fact, today when I told her she could take some Tylenol for the pain, she got angry and asked why she should have to take drugs. I realized then that she’s probably angry about all of it. Angry that the whole thing is happening, angry that she’s been so debilitated, angry that she’s hurting worse now than last week and how can something that’s supposed to be good for you hurt like this?

And how can I explain that suffering can be a blessing? That the pain God sends into our lives, He intends to bless us, whether because it wakes us up and gets us back on the right track, or whether it’s there to prune us and train us, or to provide that eternal weight of glory stored up for us in heaven. Americans are so generally afraid of pain. Our culture seems in many ways all about eradicating pain. “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child,” reads one of Arizona’s license plates.  Really? What about “beat him with a switch, he shall not die?” What about, “he who spanks his son loves him, but the one who lets him go hates him?” How about Jesus learned obedience from the things that He suffered?

We spend too much time thinking pain is bad, wrong, ought not to be when in reality, we should embrace it for its refining power, its ability to mold us and make us stronger, more compassionate, more patient… so many things we can learn in it and from it. If we weren’t trying so hard to avoid it.

Life is Cruel

We were seeing the oncologist a week or so ago to discuss options and risks for my mother’s upcoming treatment for the return of the cancer and hit upon the subject of the vagueries of the disease — why it hits some who have been health conscious all their lives  while others who have not been, go free; why it comes back for some and doesn’t for others;  why different patients have different types of cancer cells, some responding readily to less debilitating treatments, while others need to be walloped.

My mother is rarely sick, takes only one medication on a regular basis, has never before this had any operations, illnesses or medical procedures. She’s long been preoccupied with health, eating an organic vegetarian diet, avoiding soda, packaged foods, cell phones, microwaves, genetically modified foods and plastic. What’s more she did everything she was told to do when the cancer first showed itself a year ago. Yet here it is, back again. “Life is cruel,” she blurted to the doctor. And he nodded soberly. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”

 In fact after all the years he’d been at his profession, he confessed there was a certain randomness to it all that he simply did not understand.

In medicine — and even in alternative therapies —  it seems there is this idea that if we can just do the right thing, find the right combination of treatments or even preventatives, we can avoid the cruelty of disease. Sometimes we do. But other times we don’t and there is no “logical” reason from the human perspective.

So yes, Life can be cruel, but only because one doesn’t really understand it, or our purpose in it. The world is not heaven, after all, but fallen and filled with fallen creatures who are mostly under the control and deception of the greatest of all fallen creatures, Satan himself. The Adversary. The Accuser. The Cherub angel who, as the guardian of the Lord’s Righteousness, was akin to His best friend… and who betrayed Him. Not only in heaven with that first sin of independence, but later, on earth when he possessed Judas to sell out his Teacher for 30 pieces of silver…

And thereby sent Him to the cross for which He had come.

I sat there listening to my mother and the doctor, not knowing what to say, my mind full of realizations. I know that the world is not random, that God has everything under control. He lets his sun shine on the evil and the just, sends his rain to the good and the bad. He knows the number of stars in the universe and he knows the number of the hairs on each of our heads at any given time. Not one event occurs He not only didn’t know about in Eternity past, but in fact chose as the best thing for His kind intention and for his creatures’ highest and best.

His intention was not, however, to reproduce heaven on earth, but to demonstrate to the angels, fallen and elect, and to mankind, His glory. And His glory is in His grace. He gave the man and woman a free will, just as He had given the angels before them free will. The angels used that will to turn against Him, and in the same pattern, so did man. Satan must have thought he’d won at the point where the man and woman had both fallen into the same state he was in.

But that’s because, despite having been in heaven, having seen the Creator, and even having guarded the very throne of The Lord’s righteousness, Satan didn’t really know who He was. Maybe none of the angels did because who God is is not readily apparent in a perfect and righteous environment.

So He made the earth and man and let Adam and the woman fall, and decreed that all their progeny should be born in the man’s likeness, fallen, sinful, cursed, condemned. So God could come down and save them. It’s all about what He was willing to do for His creatures — take on the form of a man, submit to the injustice of the seven trials that preceded the Cross and then allow himself to be nailed up there, the only perfect man. The only  Holy One, the only one worthy of opening the scroll in Revelation 5. We can only begin to comprehend what He did for us all, the ultimate sacrifice He made for His creatures, the majority of whom would continue in their independence and reject that sacrifice.

If we weren’t fallen, how could He show us that?

Sometimes God’s reality seems so incontrovertible, so compelling, so OBVIOUS. And at the same time, I can see the blindness in others who see the cruelty in disease and aging and loss rather than the necessary pressure those afflictions bring to a soul who is heading for eternal condemnation. They can’t see the grace in it, because they can’t see beyond the details. The material. The flesh, the people, the disease, the pain, the treatments, the decisions… the alternatives, the attempts to take control, to try and make this life something it is not and was never meant to be: perfect, without pain or sorrow.

It’s like this false template held up before their eyes through which they view all that is around them, and try to make things fit to it. A veil before their eyes that can only be stripped away when and if they come to Christ.

Operation Redwing

This will be my last post on thoughts generated from my reading of Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. So far all the material I’ve quoted from and blogged about has come from the first third of the book, the training phase. I haven’t even gotten to the disaster of Operation Redwing, and won’t really. That part doesn’t bear excerpting and discussing really — it just has to be read and experienced for itself.

What I found cool about it all, was that, as bad as BUD/s training was, and in particular Hell Week, on the Redwing mission Marcus ended up using all of it. So much of what he experienced during Hell Week (and I only touched on a small bit of his description — that, like the mission itself deserves to be read in its entirety to get the full effect) he went through again, this time in the face of and at the hands of the enemy. So it not only makes sense of all the training, but it bridges over to our lives, and makes sense of our training as well. If we can remember to see it as such.

One thing in particular that hit me about Marcus’s time in the Hindu Kush under fire, surrounded, badly injured, no way out, was that for the first time ever he had to go it alone. Bear his own cross as it were, another area that coincides with the Christian life. There comes a time we all have to go on alone. Our comrades, our team has been stripped away from us, just as it was stripped from Jesus and from the Apostle Paul. And often, as with Marcus, our own strengths and assets have also been stripped from us. It’s us and God and sometimes all we can do is keep on keeping on. And that was pretty much where Marcus ended up — and he knew it, because God made it very clear to him. I loved it.

Well, I loved LOTS about this book. As I said, I could go on and on, but I won’t. Life is moving on around me and I’m accumulating too many other subjects to blog about without sufficient time or energy to get to them. Besides, I’m afraid if I do any more I’ll end up violating copyright on this book. Suffice to say, I have not read as enlightening and inspiring a book as this one in a long time and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in living the Christian life, particularly where it comes to suffering. It’s an amazing story.

It’s also surprisingly moving.

Hell Week

“First of all, I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One evolution at a time.

“Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you.”

These were the words of the commanding officer given to the remaining trainees of Marcus Luttrell’s SEAL Class 226 prior to the commencement of the dreaded Hell Week, which followed the first four weeks of BUD/s training. Already 54 of the 98 who’d begun the first phase had quit or been dismissed (on account of lacking physical qualities and aptitudes necessary for doing “the work of a U.S. Navy SEAL.)

Again, I was blown away by how that advice is pretty much the same as given to us as Christian soldiers in God’s army… Live one day at a time, take no thought for tomorrow, for today has enough troubles of its own, capture every wrong thought to the obedience of Christ, don’t quit, no matter what…

Hell Week, “the most demanding six days of training in any fighting force in the world, ” started on a Sunday afternoon, with the candidates locked down in a large classroom, basically sitting around waiting. And then …

“…it was after 2030 and before 2100. Suddenly there was a loud shout, and someone literally kicked open the side door. Bam! And a guy carrying a machine gun, followed by two others, came charging in, firing from the hip. The lights went off, and then all three gunmen opened fire, spraying the room with bullets (blanks, I hoped).

There were piercing blasts from whistles, and the other door was kicked open and three more men came crashing into the room. The only thing we knew for sure right now was when the whistles blew, we hit the floor and took up a defensive position, prostrate, legs crossed, ears covered with the palms of the hands.

“Hit the deck! Heads down! Incoming!”

Then a new voice, loud and stentorian. It was pitch dark save for the nonstop flashes of the machine guns, but the voice sounded a lot like Instructor Mruk’s to me — “Welcome to hell, gentlemen.”

For the next couple of minutes there was nothing but gunfire, deafening gunfire. They were certainly blanks, otherwise half of us would have bene dead, but believe me, they sounded just like the real thing, SEAL instructors firing our M43s. The shouting was drowned by the whistles, and everything was drowned by the gunfire.

By now the air in the room was awful, hanging with the smell of cordite, lit only by the muzzle flashes. I kept my head well down on the floor as the gunmen moved among us, taking care not to let hot spent cartridges land on our skin.

I sensed a lull. And then a roar, plaining meant for everyone. “All of you, out!”

I struggled to my feet and joined the stampede to the door. We rushed out to the grinder, where it was absolute bedlam. More gunfire, endless yelling, and then again, the whistles, and once more we all hit the deck…

Then the instructors opened fire for real, this time with high-pressure hoses aimed straight at us, knocking us down if we tried to get up. The place was awash with water, and we couldn’t see a thing and we couldn’t hear anything above the small-arms and artillery fire.

Battlefield whistle drills were conducted in the midst of high-pressure water jets, total chaos, deafening explosions and shouting instructors…

Some of the guys were suffering from mass confusion. One of ’em ran for his life, straight over the beach and into the ocean… This was a simulated scene from the Normandy beaches and it did induce a degree of panic, because no one knew what was happening or what we were supposed to be doing besides hitting the deck.”

I set all this down because it really spoke to me. There are times when life just devolves into chaos, you don’t know whether you’re coming or going, what’s up or down, what is happening or what you’re supposed to be doing. Sometimes it seems all you can do is hit the deck and cover your ears. The thing that impressed me was that this wasn’t random but a deliberate, manufactured sequence and set of events and pressures, designed to induce panic.  And it was all for their benefit. For their practice and training. For their testing. And all you had to do really was hold your ground and wait until things cleared. Eventually direction would be given and then you could move.

I’ve been experiencing that situation more and more frequently of late. Where I don’t know what to do and just have to sit and wait for God to reveal the steps I should take next. I used to panic a bit because I had no direction, but gradually I’m learning to accept it as temporary and just wait. But Marcus’s description of the Hell Week activities brought into clarity for me the fact that not one chaotic situation that takes over my life is out of God’s control. In fact, it’s not only not out of His control, but He designed it in every detail just as much as those SEAL instructors designed theirs. Better, actually, since He’s God…

In our recent Bible class, Pastor said that God brings glory to Himself by rescuing us. He’ll let us get into a jam or even lead us into one, just to give us the opportunity to trust Him. And it’s in our backing off and giving the problem to Him that we glorify Him. Our problem, Pastor said, is that we keep trying to solve our problems ourselves with our own power. Rather than give it over to Him and wait… Rather than…

Be still, and know that I am God.

How Serious are You?

Continuing with thoughts generated from the book, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell…

The SEAL training at this point was intense and about to get a bit more so, as described in this bit on his first day in BUD/s First phase, the first day of the first of four weeks that would culminate in Hell Week.

So there they are, class 226, assembled outside the barracks two hours before dawn on Coronado island, the temp about 50 degrees (which is COLD for an Arizonan!). Their class leader presents them to the instructor and without so much as a good morning, he orders them to hit the surf…After that it’s pretty much continual exercise…

By 0600 I had counted out more than 450 push-ups. And there were more, I just couldn’t count any more. I’d also done more than fifty sit-ups. We were ordered from one exercise to another. Guys who were judged to be slacking were ordered to throw in a set of flutter kicks.

“The result of this was pure chaos. Some guys couldn’t keep up, others were doing push-ups when they’d been ordered to do sit-ups, men were falling, hitting the ground facedown. In the end, half of us didn’t know where the hell we were or what we were supposed to be doing. I just kept going, doing my absolute best, through the roars of abuse and the flying spray of the power hoses: push-ups, sit-ups, screwups. It was now all the same to me. Every muscle in my body ached…”

When they finally finished, he was so exhausted he could hardly eat breakfast.

It was, of course, all by design. This was not some kind of crazed Chinese fire drill arranged by the instructors. This was a deadly serious assessment of their charges, a method used to find out, in the hardest possible way, who really wanted to do this, who really cared enough to go through with it, who could face the next four weeks before Hell Week, when things got seriously tough.

“It was designed to compel us to reassess our commitment. Could we really take this punishment? Ninety-eight of us had formed up on the grinder two hours earlier. Only sixty-six of us made it through breakfast…”

The parallels to the Christian life here are uncanny. Just like Jesus, we learn obedience through the things that we suffer, but we also have the opportunity to determine just how important God and His word really are to us. Is it all lip service? Will be serve Him, be loyal to Him only for what we can get out of it? Only so long as things go well for us? And when they stop going well, will we throw in the towel. Or, in SEAL training parlance, “ring the bell?”

God knows, of course, but we don’t. When periods of intense adversity and confusion come, will we be like those seedlings in the parable of the sower that were choked out by the worries and cares of the world? Or will we be like the tree planted by streams of water, whose roots go deep so that it will not fear when the drought comes. Will we be like those trainees who made it through SEAL training, recalling why they were there, determined to give it their all, adamant about not quitting.

That’s just some human, transient activity. Noble for time, perhaps but ultimately temporal. How much more should we, enlisted as trainees in the Lord’s army, keep recalling why we are here, determined to give our Saviour our all, resolutely plugging forward one step at a time, no matter what? SEAL training is something of and in the world. Our training and service is for time and for eternity. Besides, to whom would we go? Who else has the words of truth?

It helps me to look at times of adversity and affliction as training rather than some random misfortune. My life may seem to have devolved into some kind of “crazed Chinese fire drill,” but I can know it has purpose in it, because my Instructor is the one who knows all, who delights in righteousness and justice and grace. SEAL instructors keep close tabs on their trainees, they know exactly what can be withstood without permanent injury and guide the instruction down to the very last increment of pressure that can be tolerated. Confusion, chaos, exhaustion, discomfort, even agony… they know where the line is, even if the recruits do not. Just as God knows our line, though we do not.

Lone Survivor — Revisited

Awhile back I wrote about the book Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson (Here) . At the time I’d just begun it. This morning I finished it. That I took as long as I did is no reflection on the book, only on the level of life distractions I’ve been faced with. And actually I think I’ve read it about three times altogether now, given my propensity for skipping ahead and then returning to read through more slowly. I don’t often recommend books, but this is one I do. Especially if you know anything about the angelic conflict, the purpose of suffering, the reason we’re here, how to glorify God… because this book presents a vivid, moving and compelling visual/experiential illustration of what the Christian life is about.

It is not a religious book, though Luttrell does believe in God and it’s very clear that God preserved his life in the mountains of Afghanistan. But the similarities between our lives in training as Christians and then executing that training as we begin to come under more and more pressure from the enemy and the training and deployment of Navy SEALS were amazingly apt. I have turned over the corners of over thirty pages of sections I wanted to quote or reflect upon.

For example…

It was just another example of how amazingly sharp you need to be in order to wear the SEAL Trident. Over and over during training, we were told never to be complacent, reminded constantly of the sheer cunning and unpredictability of our terrorist enemy, of the necessity for total vigilance at all times, of the endless need to watch out for our teammates….

He spends quite a bit of time relating his experiences as he went through the training to be a SEAL before going on to describe the events of Operation Redwing, from which only he survived. The training was absolutely fascinating and in that especially I could relate. Often they would be put uncomfortable, painful situations, like being in cold water up their necks for precisely the amount of time their instructors knew they could bear before expiring.

They were also deliberatedlytreated unjustly. After spending the afternoon cleaning his room, getting everything shining and spotless, a trainee would stand agog as the instructor come to inspect his work would proceed to drop sand on the gleaming floor, tear up the crisply made bed, pull out all the neatly packed-drawers and dump their contents on the floor, all the while yelling at the trainee for being a slob and a lazy bum (well, not those words precisely) and then commanding him to “get wet and sandy.” Which meant to go out fully clothed (in your dress uniform even) jump into the cold Pacific off Coronado island and then roll about in the sand.

I read that part about the time Pastor was talking about how as Christians we are going to receive unjust treatment. It’s a part of suffering for blessing. It’s something God doesn’t just “allow” but in a sense chooses and at times even orchestrates. (As He used Pharaoh). Reading that the Navy SEAL instructors were deliberately unjust was a shock. Here’s a quote:

I asked [Instructor] Reno about this weeks later, and he told me, “Marcus, the body can take damn near anything. It’s the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That’s what we’re looking for.”

And that’s what God’s looking for. Not perfection. But plugging. Never giving up on the plan. No matter what hits you, you just keep on going. Because Satan knows just as well as those SEAL instructors that injustice is really, really hard to swallow. It ignites all manner of sins from anger to resentment to vengeance, from sulking to self-pity to giving up. He knows that if he comes at God’s people with injustice a certain number of them are going to throw in the towel. Or, to keep with the SEAL theme, to ring the bell that signalled withdrawal.

To fight in God’s army you have to be able to handle injustice. And pain.

Here’s another quote:

I remember [the instructor] said flatly, “You’re going to hurt while you’re here. That’s our job, to induce pain; not permanent injury, of course, but we need to make you hurt. That’s a big part of becoming a SEAL. We need proof you can take the punishment. And the way out of that is mental… Don’t buckle under to the hurt, rev up your spirit and your motivation, attack the courses. Tell ourself precisely how much you want to be here.”

Of course in our case, it doesn’t depend on us. We can bear the pain and the injustice through the power that God has given us. The power of His word and of His Spirit. But it is primarily born through the mind. The attitude we bring to the suffering is what determines success or failure. Suffering is given to us so we can learn obedience, as Jesus did, and later so that we might glorify God while enduring it.  If we get subjective about it, we will fail. If we step back and recognize it as something God has allowed and then ask ourselves what He might be intending fur us to learn from it, we’ll go a long way toward maintaining that proper mental attitude.

And this was just from the first two weeks of the SEAL training. Before they even got to BUD/s and well before they had to face the dreaded Hell Week…

…to be continued.

A Summary of the Christian Life

In our lessons lately, our pastor has been teaching from an outline of five basic principles that encapsulate living the Christian Life. They are…

1. Knowing the angelic conflict

2. Knowing how to glorify God (there are specific criterion)

3. Know no man after the flesh

4. Live for others

5. Continually take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

We just spent a week or so on knowing the angelic conflict — not an indepth teaching on the entire doctrine, but rather emphasizing how it answers some of the deep questions many people ask and few can answer. Why sin? Why did God create any of us, angels included, knowing His creatures would rebel? Why suffering and chaos? Why disaster, especially when it comes into the lives of those who are making good decisions and going forward in the plan of God?

The timing of this in concert with what’s been going on in my own life has been… well, certainly not coincidental since I don’t believe in coincidence. Before the moment needed, God provides His word and its answers. He also provides it after the moment needed, just to confirm. And, come to think of it, in the moment, as well. I guess He’s got all bases covered.

Why suffering? Why disaster? It’s getting clearer for me. Here’s a section of my notes from a recent lesson that really resonated:

You were doing all the right things, you’d made positive decisions, had kept going forward in the Plan and you were waiting for the promised blessings to be dropped in your lap. And they were. Except they didn’t look at all like you expected them to look.

They were the blessings of adversity and undeserved suffering. Not prosperity, going through success and having business propositions coming in that made you look like a great business person. No. What matters isn’t whether you are successful in the world’s eyes, but did you stick with the Plan? Did you keep going forward, reaching for what lies ahead? Or did you come up with an excuse to give it up and go back to the world’s ways?

God has a way of having something come into your life that you didn’t expect. It may be physical suffering; it may be problems in relationships — problems in the marriage, in the family, in friendships. It may be problems with success or money. All seemingly negative things, yet all for our benefit. But if you go forward, regardless, you’ll receive real  divine blessings, of the same nature as our Lord received.

When He was on the cross, that didn’t seem at all like blessing according to the world’s view, but look at where He is now because of it: King of kings, Lord of lords, seated at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places. One day every knee will bow and He will rule forever in righteousness. But He had to go through the Cross first.

I think too often people expect the world to be heaven. They want everything to go right, they want success, money, pleasure, good relationships, good health, etc. I know I did. But if you understand the angelic conflict, then you know that’s not it at all. The world isn’t heaven, it’s fallen. It’s a battleground. It’s a theater. The angels are learning things from us. We’re not here to have things go our way and have a nice life. We’re here to bring glory to God in the angelic conflict. And that takes suffering, as the book of Job so clearly illuminates.

This world is also temporary. What matters is the eternal, but unfortunately I think it takes a lifetime to really believe that.