When the Lights Go Out

dark-1850684_1920It was Friday night, we’d gone out for dinner, and barely made it back into the garage before the downpour.

When the power went off, I was writing at my computer and my wife was reading an e-book on her tablet. The plan was to watch a movie a little later, but there we were with no electricity, no lights, no internet, and no television.

“What do we do now,” she asked.Lantern

I reached into the desk drawer for the flashlight that doubles as a cell phone power source, plugged in my phone, and turned on the mobile hotspot so we could maintain internet connection. Then I walked over to the kitchen pantry where we keep two battery-operated camping lanterns, pulled one out, and placed it on the kitchen counter, where its light sprayed throughout the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Not a lot, but enough.

For the next hour, rain poured from the sky as if God had picked up the Atlantic Ocean and was dumping it on us. Linda took the lantern over to the couch to read; my laptop had plenty of charge for me to finish the work I was doing.

Although the rest of the house was dark, and the temperature grew warmer because the air conditioner was off, we didn’t have a crisis when the lights went out. During the previous weekend, we had checked the batteries in those emergency lamps and charged my mobile power back-up. Because we were ready, there was no emergency when the storm caused a blackout. We didn’t panic, and there wasn’t a crisis.

The same can be true if something terrible happens and life itself comes to an end. If we’ve taken time to prepare in advance, even death isn’t a crisis, and we don’t have to panic.

In Philippians 1:21 the Apostle writes, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That doesn’t sound like a man who is afraid of the dark or of death. He was prepared for whatever might happen.The Man Who Knew Too Much

Job is another who had a deep confidence when facing the storms of life. Despite all the pain and ugliness that he faced, he still declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

When the lights finally came back on, we watched an old Alfred Hitchcock movie starring James Stewart and Doris Day. It was a lovely evening—despite the storm raging on the outside.

 

Lightning

Advertisements

Broken & Hurting

Many loneliness-1879453_1920people experience the worst life has to offer. Sometimes, the pain is the result of illness or accident, but at times it is intentionally inflicted by other people.

Debbie grew up in a Christian home, and shortly after high school, met Kyle, a young man who attended the same church. After dating for a year, Kyle asked her to marry him, and she said “yes,” expecting to live happily ever after.

A few months after the wedding, however, Debbie was still on cloud nine when something went terribly wrong. When she got home from work one day, she found out he’d been drinking, and in a rage, he hit her. Horrified, she called their pastor, who provided counseling for several weeks. Things seemed to be getting better, until one night Kyle put a loaded gun to her head. In a panic, Debbie managed to escape. Even though her grandmother lived several miles away, Debbie somehow found the strength to run all the way. She survived, but something inside had broken, making it hard to trust anyone. She left Kyle and abandoned her faith in Christ.Silhouette 2

Every one of us is broken in some way. We might look fine on the outside, but inside we’re hurting. If we’re to find healing or any positive result from the pain, it might be helpful to take a look at Job, James, and Jesus to see how we can respond in painful circumstances.

Even though he did everything right, Job suffered terrible business losses, extreme physical pain, and undeserved accusations from his friends. His wife also lost everything, and chose to let go of hope and faith, suggesting that he do the same. Instead, Job turned to the Lord, and began to understand more fully his own weakness and need for God. These are important lessons that sometimes have to be learned the hard way. We have a tendency to be self-sufficient, unaware of our desperate need for God. In his darkest moments, Job chose to turn toward the Lord, and so can we.

The second possibility for meaning in our pain is character growth. James 1:2-4 tells us to remain joyful when we endure tests and trials, because they will help us mature. It is true that pain can break us, but it also has a way of strengthening us and deepening us. The difference is how we respond to the crisis and to the work of the Holy Spirit.

A third potential benefit of tribulation is that it can help us develop compassion for others. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw their need and was moved to compassion. He cared about people and saw their hurts. He felt their need, and acted. He fed them, healed them, taught them, loved them. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 1:4 when he says the Lord comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others.

Some people respond to pain by becoming hardened, bitter, or angry. Others are jealous of those who seem to have everything going right. If we want to grow in Christ and enjoy life to its fullest, however, we can’t afford to let either of those happen. Instead, we can turn to the Lord, mature as human beings, and develop a sense of compassion for others.

Silver

There’s a song in the musical version of Les Misérables that a Christian pastor sings to a hungry, homeless criminal, “Come in, sir, for you are weary, and the night is cold out there. There’s a bed to rest til morning, rest from pain and rest from wrong.”

That’s what the Lord is saying to us in Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, you who are tired, carrying a heavy load, and I will give you rest.” Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.

In a Hurry & Running Late

usps-796059_1920As a newlywed attending a Christian college in Southern California, I was a driver for a private mail and parcel service. Every day, I was in posh high-rise office buildings and run-down strip malls, machine shops and Mom-and-Pop shops. By the time I worked there for a year, I’d been in almost every post office in Orange County.

One day my boss asked me to come in early because we had a new corporate client in Newport Beach who requested an early pick-up and delivery. Before heading out, I checked my map. Traffic was heavy. I was in a hurry and running late.

do-not-enter-98935_1280

When I got to the post office, I turned into the drive, only to discover that I was in a long, narrow, one-way exit lane with a big red sign announcing DO NOT ENTER. The situation demanded a fast decision. Do I back up into traffic and go around the block, looking for the entrance? Or do I step on the gas and zip into the parking lot before anyone tries to exit? I pressed the pedal to the metal.

When I was almost out of the wrong-way lane, a car turned into the driveway. We both slammed on the brakes, barely avoiding a head-on collision. A bit shaken by the near-miss, I pulled up to the loading dock and put my mail onto a cart, but before I entered the back door of the post office, that same car sped around the building and screeched to a halt. Dressed in an expensive business suit, the driver got out and stomped towards me.

Instantly, Matthew 5:25 came to mind, “Make peace with your adversary while you’re still on your way.”

As the stranger approached, I walked up to him and said. “Sir, I owe you an apology. In a hurry, I drove into the exit. I was wrong, and would like to ask for your forgiveness.”

“Do you know who I am?” he demanded.

“No, sir. I just know that what I did was wrong. I nearly caused an accident, and I am sorry.”

“I am the postmaster,” his face a deep red by now. “I could ban you from every post office in the county. I could have the police ticket you for driving the wrong way. I could call your boss and have you fired.” When he paused, we stared nose to nose. “But tell you what. Because you admitted your wrongdoing without even knowing who I was, I will forgive you. Don’t let it happen again.”

I stood there stunned. If the Holy Spirit didn’t bring that verse to my mind at that instant, I would be in big trouble. If I let pride keep me from admitting my mistake, I might be unemployed by the end of the day.

bible-1867195_1920

It dawned on me that I really can trust the scripture when it says “don’t worry about how to defend yourself, for the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say.” I had memorized those verses long before that morning, never realizing that I’d need to use them in a tight situation. Before driving away, I took a minute to thank the Lord for his Word and his Spirit.

After completing my route, I parked the van and took the keys to the office. While I filled out the time sheet, my boss walked in and said, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that the Newport Beach postmaster called to tell me he met you this morning.”

I froze.

“He said he was really impressed with you, and that you do good work. I Just wanted to pass that compliment on. Good job.”

Embarrassed, humbled, and relieved, I drove to the college. I was in a hurry and running late, barely getting there in time for class, but careful to obey every traffic sign.

Speed Bumps Ahead

 

Speed Bump SignThere were four or five speed bumps on the road ahead, but what caught my attention was the car in front of me. As it approached each bump in the road, it veered way over to the right to go around it. Didn’t slow down. Just avoided the speed bumps.

I, on the other hand, don’t mind speed bumps. They don’t bother me or my car in the least. Unless they are particularly obnoxious, or unless my wife is in the car with me, I go right over them without worrying. Without slowing very much, either, I might add.

When the car ahead got to the last speed bump, there was a parked car on the side of the road, so the driver had no choice but to go over the bump. To accomplish this feat, he came to a complete stop. Then he crawled over the speed bump as if his car might be damaged if it went more than 2 MPH over that obstacle. It was a fairly new car, and it didn’t seem fragile. Yet he crept over that speed bump as if his very life depended on not going any faster than the snail on the sidewalk to our right. The earthworm on the other side sped past him, though. Just zipped on by!

I watched the scene play out, trying to remain patient. I had a meeting to attend, but I could wait a little longer to see what the fellow would do. See if his jalopy would survive the ordeal of climbing over that mountain. It got all the way to the top of the speed bump and eased down the other side. Then the driver looked around, breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and accelerated. He was a success. He was having a good day!

Man in StreetAfter the meeting, I thought about the speed bump episode. In everyday life, we all face bumps in the road. We might call them hiccups or obstacles. Some people refuse to use the word “problem,” preferring, instead, to call them “challenges.” But they’re real.

Jesus said plainly in John 16:33 that there’ll be trouble, sorrow, pain, and difficulty in this world. Different translations of the Bible use words like tribulation, trials, distress, and afflictions. The Greek word is thlipsis, which refers to a variety of tough circumstances.

The fact is . . . life is tough. And just when you think it’s going to ease up a bit, it gets harder. It tests your faith. It raises hard questions. It makes you want to run away. “But be of good cheer,” the Lord goes on to say. “Take heart, be brave, don’t let it defeat you.”

Jesus knew about hardship. He knew what it meant to suffer, to hurt, to wish things could turn out differently. So did James, who wrote that we can be joyful even when going through tough stuff, knowing that the Lord is at work in our lives. So did Paul, who said God was working for our good in every situation. Even when hitting those speed bumps.

Basketball HoopYears ago, in a pick-up game of basketball, the other team got a rebound and was running a 4-on-1 fast break. Trying to defend them, I turned to reach for the ball. In doing so, I twisted my knee, snapped my ACL, and landed on the ground in pain. Surgery was followed by months of physical therapy.

To this day, I have an awareness and a compassion for people who have a leg, knee, or foot injury. Whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, on crutches. or wearing a knee brace, I remember what it was like falling to the ground in agony, then being helped off the court by friends. For a moment, I relive the exercises designed to restore strength and range of motion. My painful experience helped me become more aware of other people and what they’re going through.

We can’t avoid speed bumps, can’t always drive around them like the driver in front me was trying to do. There will always be problems, challenges, and obstacles. Some will be overwhelming, others mere hiccups. What we can do is face them with courage, patience, and confidence, open to the idea that they just might lead to personal growth and maturity, and just maybe help us develop a sense of compassion and an ability to relate to other people.

Speed Bump Image