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Coping with the Unexpected
Life is no fun when things aren't the way they are supposed to be.
How do you live with someone who seemingly doesn't love you? How do you love someone who misuses and abuses you? It hurts to be rejected, blamed, or unjustly accused.
How do you go on when you feel all alone, when life leaves you feeling bruised, beaten, and as if you're going nowhere?
How do you parent children who think you are the worst thing that ever happened to them?
How do you cope with all of the things that compete for and against what you love and hold dear?
Why do normally sensible people abandon all hope for what should have been their blessings in Christ?
What force or elemental power is sucking the life and tearing the hearts right out of us?
Wherever you look, you'll find the eight out of every ten people who aren't living out their dreams. Most of them are simply worn down. They have surrendered their hopes and traded their dreams for the uniform of uniformity. They have forgotten or simply never understood God's promise of the abundant life (John 10:10).
This darkness that threatens the hearts and faith of good people is nothing less than an ambush of the heart! The assault often begins with a major disappointment or sorrowthat wages war on the mind and the soul. An attack may begin in quiet ways, creeping in on the back of chronic exhaustion with a nagging suspicion that we lack something other people seem to have in abundance.
We don't want to admit the attack exists or acknowledge that it affects us. It is easier to revert to our favorite childhood solution: if we whistle in the dark loud and long enough, perhaps our nagging, secret fear-the unnamed specter that traces our steps day and night-will just go away!
The assault is too deadly to ignore or dismiss.
This silent shadow seems able to break us down and inspire fear and heartbreaking hopelessness without warning. Perhaps it is the reason behind the treason of Peter in the garden when he denied Jesus. Could this help explain why the once-loving husband and dad meets another woman for lunch at the local bar across town? Is this a dark influence drawing the beloved Sunday school teacher to the adult bookstore night after night?
The assault is too deadly to ignore or dismiss. Someone far wiser than I once explained that "heartache crushes the spirit" (Prov. 15:13 NIV). Today, hard-won experience-suffering-has made me quick to confirm the wisdom of these ancient words.
A Divine Encounter in a Bar
We serve a good and loving God, but in His wisdom He seems to allow things to drop into our laps that shake us to the core. This is exactly how God ignited the fire in me that birthed this book. I'll never forget the divine appointment that diverted me from my scheduled meeting in a restaurant.
I had to walk through a bar area to reach the business luncheon in the back of a restaurant. As I did so, I glanced at the bartender's extremely long beard. (My generation would instantly recognize its similarity to the trademark beards of ZZ Top, an old rock-and-roll band from the 1970s.)
I chuckled and kept walking until I thought about the man's eyes. Something about the man's face seemed familiar. Then it hit me-I knew this bartender. This was a man who had invested in my personal and spiritual life several years earlier. What was he doing behind a bar?
Moved in my spirit, I turned around and walked straight back to him. (Although I'm a Christian and a licensed professional counselor, I'm still known for being a little crazy on occasion.) I bellied up to the bar, crossed my arms, and waited for the bartender to notice me. It didn't take long.
I looked at him and he looked at me. Then I said, "Hey," and he said, "Hey." Once the introductions were over, I tried to zero in and gently ask, "What's up? What are you doing here?"
He said, "I'm getting my stuff together, that's what I'm doing!" (Except he didn't say "stuff.")
I stood silent and he could tell I was still inquisitive in my mind.
"To explain would take more than you've got time for," he said. After that we made small talk and before long, I turned and walked away. I prayed, "Lord, what takes a man like him from fresh faith-a place of closeness with You-to a place like this?"
This was a good man, a very good man, who had taught me about relationships and foundational Scriptures such as: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17 KJV) and "Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:20 KJV). He thought he was getting his life together, but it was obvious he was as lost as a baseball in high weeds. What had happened to him? How did he lose the power he once had in his life? Even more, what is the pathway of recovery? How do people really break free to new life? Or do they?
People are hurting! And the pain is not merely limited to the unsaved masses. Something is seriously wrong in Christian City, and God is ready to fix it. But how?
... So began the thinking that led to this book.
Far too few of us seem willing to admit there is a problem. From my perspective, this is the sad part. We sing boldly in our church buildings, but little evidence of our personal pain ever leaks out into the streets, the homes, or the cities around us. Who or what has silenced the lambs of God? Why are we so afraid to admit our failures and heartbreaks?
The fact is, "church people" divorce just as often as people who never attend church-in fact, multiple divorces are extraordinarily common among born-again Christians; 23 percent are divorced two or more times! Some consider our most serious social ill the lack of fathers in the home. This fatherless trend harms our emerging younger generation and promotes mental disorders, crime, suicide, poverty, teenaged pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and incarceration. Nearly three of every four children living in fatherless homes experience poverty right now, and they are ten times as likely to experience extreme poverty. (And that is only a measure of their status as financial have-nots. The void in their souls defies calculation.)
I don't mean in any way to slam single parenting. If anything, I applaud and marvel at single parents who work so hard to give the gift of love to their kids. But the fact remains that no mom is a mom-dad. And no dad can be a dad-mom.
Even our heroes are hurting, and no one but God seems to be listening!
We are more stressed than ever before, we're pulled in every direction, we don't have time for anything. Add to that dismal picture the fact that hell itself is against us. Verses such as 1 Peter 5:8 confirm this fact: "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." None of us is exempt.
Good people are hurting. Even our heroes are hurting, and no one but God seems to be listening! A group of about thirty missionaries came to me and we talked for two hours. I walked out of that meeting with pain in my heart. We had talked about what it meant to be a missionary and they told me things that I had never heard.
One man stood up at the end and said, "Tim, I guess what we want to know most of all is that we matter. We want to know that what we do really counts." (This came from missionaries who had dedicated their entire lives to foreign ministry!)
What sobered me was the fact that they had given so much. It is true that they had heaven's reward, and none of them worked for the accolades of man. But they had endured great stress and sacrifice. They just needed to be reassured that it was worth it. Do you ever feel this way?
It is time to claim our freedom from the accuser.
Those God Uses Are Especially at Risk
I am a pastor's son. I know firsthand what service looks like: I've seen my father go through distress and weep over his congregation. In my ministry as a professional counselor, I've seen great pastors struggling with deep sin in their lives. I've helped them cope with the aftermath of treachery and stood alongside them as they went through brokenness in their ministry.
You may be one of the pastors or full-time ministry workers who know what I'm talking about. You may even be one of the 40 percent of pastors who'd like to leave the pulpit. Apparently, when asked why, these spiritual leaders said they just didn't want to do it anymore. I can understand why. It seems the office of pastor doesn't mean much today. It is not an easy job, and it's often not fun.
My friend H. B. London, the man often called "America's pastor to pastors," once said, "We have found that most members of the clergy feel isolated, insecure, and only rarely affirmed."
But whether you are a pastor or a different servant of God, you and I are in an all-out battle against disaffection with God and life. It is time to claim our freedom from the accuser.
Regardless of our occupations or life journeys, we all face spiraling stress levels and increasing satanic assault. The Bible itself warns us that in the last days, evil will grow worse and worse.
The enemy appears to be putting in some overtime before quitting time.
The enemy knows direct assault usually won't work against genuine, born-again Christians, so he most often uses schemes or guerrilla warfare tactics against us. He attacks around the edges of our lives, targeting our children, our spouses, our thought lives, our health, or our finances. Although we don't want to give him too much credit, he is a serious student of human behavior.
He knows that if he can get to your marriage, then he can get to you. And he also knows that if he successfully compromises your marriage, he can profoundly influence your kids and ultimately influence or weaken the church.
On top of everything else, he is getting impatient. Look at Revelation 12:12: "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Rev. 12:12 KJV). He appears to be putting in some overtime before quitting time.
We do have God's promises and His ability to see us through anything and everything. But when your courage flags, my focus is to help you through those moments spent on the brink, at the edge of despair and human frailty. The problem isn't your immediate response; it is how you deal with the attack in the long run. Your choices determine your future.
Your choices determine your future.
Numbness May Be the Greatest Predator!
Look closely at what Paul said to a congregation he was shepherding:
I wish you would bear with me while I indulge in a little [so-called] foolishness. Do bear with me!
For I am zealous for you with a godly eagerness and a divine jealousy, for I have betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But [now] I am fearful, lest that even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, so your minds may be corrupted and seduced from wholehearted and sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 11:1-3 AMP)
Paul wrote these words to Christians in Corinth. They weren't infidels or bad people-they were good people who, somewhere along the way, he knew could lose heart. The apostle feared they would succumb to the death of desire for God. Numbness may be the greatest predator threatening your Christian walk today!
As a spiritual father, the apostle was concerned about these people. He deeply loved them and was anxious over their journey. While I am no apostle Paul, I feel the same way about you and millions more who are at risk in the land of the spiritually shell-shocked and the emotionally dazed.
Paul shared his motive when he wrote, "[I care] because I have betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ." Then this great apostle said, "But I am afraid. I am fearful for you." The renowned Bible teacher Beth Moore, expressed the clearest interpretation of Paul's urgency. She said that the term for "fearful" might be better translated as: "I'm terrified for you, lest the evil one deceive you by his craftiness, that somehow he would deceive you and you would lose that pure, undefiled faith in Christ."
Do you remember what it was like when you first came to Christ, when you knew you were different because you had been washed by the blood of Jesus? Do you remember the joy you sensed when the lightbulb came on in your soul and you knew you had connected with the living God? It was good people like you Paul was talking to when he said, "I am terrified for you!"
Paul knew that evil, in some subtle way, may begin to strip us of our joy. He worried that in some way the con man and scam artist we call Satan would intercept us in the journey of life and steal away our pure, undefiled faith in Christ. God urges us in Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, / for it is the wellspring of life" (NIV). But sometimes, pain leads us down a path where we actually are in danger of losing our hearts.
The truth is that if you are at a place of deep pain, then Paul the apostle and anyone else who really cares is "terrified for you." Are you broken or struggling in his journey because life is not the way it's supposed to be? Understand the cause and prepare to discover God's incredible solution to the problem. This is the place where everything you've been taught, or everything you have preached, over the years must come into play. You have to ask yourself, Do I really believe it? Or is it all just myth?
You're in a War
As Christians, we claim that "our citizenship is in heaven," and that is correct (Phil. 3:20 NIV). The downside to this is that kingdom of God is more than mere talk. The idea is that our conduct should reflect our citizenship.
If we have really been born from above, and if our lives have truly been "bought with a price"-the precious blood of Christ-then we should be different now (1 Cor. 6:20 NIV). If our behavior should reflect our citizenship, then let me tell you what you already know: there's a struggle going on!
The apostle Paul was sincerely terrified for good people he loved-he saw they were at risk. How do good people lose heart with God and life? By enduring enormous, unexpected, relentless pain.
I can still remember going to Bible camp as a young Pennsylvania boy. One of the very first verses we had to learn was James 1:2: "Brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials...." I still dislike that passage because it talks about pain and suffering.
I hate pain. Suffering has no place on my wish list.
To be frank, I get ill when I hear some untested and unscarred teacher stand up and quote that passage. It must be quoted because it is God's Word and it is true, but let it be quoted in tears and genuine humility before God and by people who have faced real risk in this life.
I hate pain. Suffering has no place on my wish list. Yet I know it will come nonetheless. According to the apostle Paul, even our planet itself gets in the act: "The whole creation has been groaning" for the day of redemption (Rom. 8:22 NIV).
Who wants darkness of soul or confusing days of struggle to be a part of his or her life? When enduring pain, most of us want to protest, "But this isn't the way it's supposed to be!"
My dad is a strong man who has battled cancer with God's help. Yet even after overcoming such hardship, he experienced one of those days.
Throughout his struggle with illness, he had looked forward to going back to the pulpit. He miraculously recovered and prepared for the day he'd anticipated for so long. Preaching was what he loved, what he held on to, especially since his wife of fifty years had passed away. But just two weeks before he was scheduled to return to his church, he got the word: "We don't want you back anymore."
Excerpted from Turn Your Life Around by Tim Clinton Copyright © 2006 by Dr. Tim Clinton. Excerpted by permission.
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