Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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understanding grief

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Grief – Part 1

This is the first of two posts that explore the subject of grief in the life of a believer. Part 1 presents the hallmarks and pitfalls of grief, along with a biblical perspective of grief. Next month, in Part 2, the post will present ways we can prepare ourselves for, and respond to, grief.

Loss and Grief

It’s a stunning number: over one million deaths worldwide due to COVID-19 in 2020—with untold millions grieving the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Though loss of life is surely one of the most severe causes of grief, COVID-19 has fostered other losses, such as the loss of jobs, travel, meetings, conferences, businesses, relationships, human connections, gatherings of all kinds, ministry opportunities, and milestone celebrations. Add to this the loss of normalcy, sense of general well-being, and rampant uncertainly about the future, and we have the makings of a pandemic of grief.

As the deer pants for streams of water
Photo by Simon Greenwood on Unsplash

Hope from a Distance: Psalm 42 and 43

The pandemic of 2020 has brought about some new terminology such as “social distancing”, “shelter-in-place”, and “hunker down.” Additionally, travel restrictions have prevented international travel, causing missionary families to miss graduations, weddings, and funerals. Also, many churches have not been able to meet face to face due to local restrictions on size of gatherings. COVID-19 has brought a lot of turmoil into our lives. Where can we find hope from a distance?

Psalm 42 and 43

Over the past several months my thoughts have often returned to Psalm 42 and 43. The writer of these two psalms (probably composed as one) was experiencing separation from public worship for reasons we do not know. The two psalms are characterized by numerous questions and a refrain repeated in Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalm 43:5. The two stanzas of Psalm 42 are laments and Psalm 43 turns the lament into prayer. Consequently, these two psalms provide us an example of how to move from despair to hope in God even when our questions remain unanswered. We learn to hope from a distance when God’s deliverance is not yet clearly in view.

Thankful
Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash

Thankful

“Thankful” is my word or theme for this year 2020. What a year to be trying to intentionally put this into practice!  The end of 2019 had some hard times, struggles with family issues and things not going as I thought they would (can anyone relate??). Little did I know in the fall of 2019 that more things wouldn’t go as planned in the spring of 2020!

But God has been faithfully reminding me of this verse.

“Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess 5:18)

He has also reminded me of my commitment to be thankful! As I train my heart and mind to give thanks, I’m recognizing day after day that God is good. I can see His hand at work in ALL things working together for good, even when sometimes the individual pieces don’t feel or look so good. This has been a journey over the last months of learning to SEE things from a different perspective.

suffering
Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Follow-up: Understanding Suffering

Paul’s follow-up with the church in Corinth is the most extensive in the New Testament. It includes four letters (1 & 2 Corinthians and two we don’t have – a “previous letter” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and a “severe letter” 2 Corinthians 2:3,4), a visit by Timothy, two visits by Titus, and two visits by Paul over a five year period. 1Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC, 2005, 101-105. In previous posts on 1 Corinthians, I have noted the need to keep the cross central and the need to keep culture in perspective. Moving on to 2 Corinthians, we see Paul defending his apostolic ministry. His suffering and lack of polish in speaking had caused his opponents to look down on him. Therefore as Paul defends himself, he provides us with an understanding of Christian suffering and gives a model of authentic gospel ministry. This post focuses on the understanding of suffering. Then a future post will address his model of authentic gospel ministry.

Very relevant to vocational ministers

Paul Barnett comments on the relevance of 2 Corinthians for us,

Thus the greater part of his teaching about ministry stand as a model and an inspiration to subsequent generations of missionaries and pastors. His comments about ministry – that at its heart lie endurance and patience, sacrifice and service, love of the churches, fidelity to the gospel, sincerity before God, and, above all, a rejection of triumphalism with its accompanying pride – remain throughout the aeon to shape and direct the lives of the Lord’s servants. Paul’s ministry as sufferer and servant is precisely modeled on that of Jesus, and finds its legitimacy in the face of detraction and opposition for just that reason, as also must ours, if that is our calling. Thus 2 Corinthians may be bracketed with the Pastoral Letters in its applicability to the work of those whose vocation it is to serve God as his ministers. 2Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT, 1997,50.

Wheat field

Making sure the roots go deep

Deep roots are essential in times of drought

Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan taught me the importance of roots going deep. In the Prairies, rain is very unpredictable and with dryland farming, rain is also an absolute necessity in summer. If during those hot, dry, dusty summer months, weeks went by without rain, the concern became palpable. Farmers would mention rain as a prayer request at every prayer meeting. My grandfather would call us early in the morning to find out if the latest rainshower had hit our farm or not.

But if the crop had developed deep roots in the early part of the growing season, it could survive even a month or longer without rain. Roots grow toward the water. Even if the top few inches of the ground are dry, the crop can survive by drawing on those resources well below the surface. The roots of wheat can grow to a depth of 1.5 meters, but they can’t grow through bone-dry dirt and their growth is impeded by compacted soil. So during spring seeding, the soil must have sufficient moisture and be loose enough to allow those seeds to germinate and to send their roots down to the level of the moisture.

Shallow roots

A few days ago in my NT Bible reading in Mark 4, I read about the seed that is sown on rocky soil.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Mark 4:16–17, NIV

If the seed of the Word of God falls on rocky soil, the roots will not go deep. Lack of deep roots evidently means that a person does not have the faith that sustains them through times of hardship, distress, or opposition. When times become difficult and they are criticized for their faith, their commitment to following Jesus quickly wanes.

Lament and contentment in suffering

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Contentment

This is the fifth of a series on “Exploring Spiritual Formation” by Lynn Karidis.

The Situation

Pasta. Again. Don’t get me wrong, I like pasta. At least, I used to before it began to show up on my dinner table multiple times a week. Now I’m not so sure. My predicament is no one’s fault but my own. I’m the one who stocked the pantry for our shelter-in-place experience.

It’s true I’m discovering how many ways one can use pasta to feed the family. But my discontent is troubling me. After hearing about the thousands of people who’ve lost their jobs—and seeing hundreds of cars lined up to receive help from food banks—I feel a bit foolish for complaining about anything that shows up on my dinner table. Though my dilemma is real, I want to avoid responding like the Israelites did while wandering in the wilderness.

John Piper

Coronavirus and Christ: a review

The coronavirus has captured everyone’s attention in the last few months. As of today (April 11, 2020), there are 1,699,632 confirmed cases worldwide and 102,734 deaths. Just a few days ago, on April 8, 2020, Crossway Books released a 112-page book by John Piper titled Coronavirus and Christ. The book can be downloaded for free as an ebook, PDF or audiobook at the Desiring God website at this link.

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1: The God Who Reigns over Coronavirus and Part 2: What is God Doing through the Coronavirus?

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