Why “Be Strong” or “Buck Up” is the Wrong Response to Suffering…

In the context of talking about people in difficult and ongoing situations, someone once asked me: “Why is the simple instruction to ‘be strong’ or ‘buck up’ at best insufficient and at worst harmful?”

When I heard this question, I was immediately struck 1) by my strong feelings on the subject and 2) by my natural ability to answer the question with insight and nuance. This was presumably in large part because I’ve dealt with significant and ongoing health issues (both physical and psychological) in recent years that have forced me to stare the painful realities of life full in the face. While on this journey, I’ve had my share of both helpful and unhelpful responses from people. Concurrently, I’ve had numerous opportunities to deeply connect with other people who are suffering, even when their suffering is quite different than my own. All that to say, I guess it makes sense that when I was asked the above-mentioned question, I felt both passionate and somewhat-competent in writing up the following reply…

Telling someone who is suffering to “Buck up!” or “Be strong!” shuts down conversation by shaming the person, instead of providing a safe place for healthy dialogue and compassionate understanding. It says that you are not willing to try to understand the other person’s situation, that you’re not willing to walk with them through this trial.

It overestimates the power of the human will and emotions. It assumes that if only the person tried harder or thought more positively, things would be better. It assumes that the problem is with the person’s effort or attitude. This ends up isolating the sufferer from resources and people that may be necessary for their situation.

It guilts people about things which are largely not under their control, instead of freeing them with knowledge that some things are not their fault, while providing a safe and empowering environment in which to make choices over those things that they can manage.

It downplays or denies the reality of the difficult parts of the human experience and the validity of unpleasant emotions. This means, of course, that such persons will be of little or no help in actually dealing with such experiences.

Basically, telling someone to “be strong” or “buck up” shuts down conversation and relationship, isolates the sufferer, guilts and shames over that which is out of the person’s control, may prevent the sufferer from getting the help they need, and denies the reality of the full human experience.

– Hannah

(Picture from: https://quotefancy.com/quote/1398985/Sheryl-Sandberg-Real-empathy-is-sometimes-not-insisting-that-it-will-be-okay-but)

“I Will Heal Their Apostasy”

“Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words  and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.” – Hosea 14:1-4, ESV

“Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for your sins have brought you down. Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord. Say to him,“Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises. Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods.’ No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” The Lord says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.” – Hosea 14:1-4, NLT

All of my life I heard, “If something is too good to be true, then it probably is.” But what about when it comes to the love of God? What happens when I ask myself, “Is there any hope for me?” and then I come to this passage see those five words “I will heal their apostasy.” Is that really a promise of hope for my soul or this too good to be true?

I would like to argue that this is a true promise of God that is relevant for us today. We all have a sin nature that longs to pull us away from God. The issues of life often trouble us and distract us from His grace, but let it be known that even though we are prone to wonder, prone to leave the God we love (as one hymn writer puts it), we are never too far that God cannot heal backsliding. David Guzik says, “The word is compassionate: I will heal their backsliding. This shows God looks on our backsliding more like a disease than a crime. He does not say, I will pardon their backsliding.It is as though he said, My poor people, I do remember that they are but dust; they are liable to a thousand temptations through the fall, and they soon go astray; but I will not treat them as though they were rebels, I will look upon them as patients, and they shall look upon me as a physician.”

What a thought! When we understand that our backsliding isn’t held against us and we can run into his forgiveness and receive grace in our time of need. This doesn’t mean our sin isn’t serious. It means that our sin has already been dealt with at the cross. One of my former pastors once said that Jesus is never neutral towards sin, He either forgives it or condemns it. Let it be understood that if you are trusting Jesus for your salvation then He has already forgiven your sin.

In one blog post, Pastor Steve Brown drives this point home: “All sin is serious, but God’s forgiveness is forever. That is what the cross was all about! The Bible teaches in Romans 8:1 that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Christians are covered by the blood of Christ. In his death, Christ has already paid the price for our judgment.

God forgives all of our sin, regardless of how “big” or “small” that sin may be . . . because of his great and enduring love. What that means, from God’s perspective, is that he has forgotten our sins and is not holding us accountable for them. They have already been paid for. God has already forgiven our sin—past, present and future—in the shedding of blood and sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. When we ask for forgiveness it is for our benefit. In other words, asking for forgiveness acknowledges our sin and rebellion against God and allows us to turn towards him in an attitude of repentance. It is an act of love.

It is important to remember that Christians aren’t perfect, only forgiven. There are two kinds of people in the world, not the good and the bad; but, rather, the bad who know it and the bad who don’t. As Christians, we need to be honest about who we are and about who God is.

There is absolutely nothing you can do to get God to love you one iota more than he already does and there is absolutely nothing you can do to get God to love you one iota less.”

The word of God makes it clear that God preserves us and forgives us as His children. The following are some passages that emphasize the love of God and assurance of salvation: Psalm 51:2,7; Psalm 32:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 John 1:9; Romans 4:7; Hebrews 8:12; Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 38:17; John 8:36; Isaiah 43:25; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 23:34; Micah 7:7; Romans 8:1-39; Jeremiah 32:40; Isaiah 54:7-10, and there are many others, but these are a few.

Today, know that God loves you with an everlasting love and that He is for you.

Momentary Affliction and a Merciful Savior

MAMS

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. …For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, 17-18, NRSV

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, NRSV

Let’s get one thing clear. I suck at being a Christian. I love Jesus with all my heart. He’s my best friend. I call upon Him as Savior everyday and I pray for Him to be my Lord, and I try to submit myself to what He wants for my life, but sometimes I just blow it. If I weren’t a Calvinist, I would say that I’ve lost my salvation two or three times in the last week. The struggle that I have is real and one of the reasons I believe God allows me to have these struggles is so that I can help others who have similar problems.

You see, this whole sanctification thing is from now until we die. We’ll never be perfect until we stand in the full presence of Almighty God in Heaven. Until that moment, God continually draws us to Himself. He beckons us into a beautiful relationship with Him. And this life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we make bad decisions. The good news though is that Jesus didn’t lay any terms and conditions in a negotiation with the Father before He came. Jesus didn’t look at God and say, “Now Dad, I’m only going to atone for their sins if they never blow it or mess up again from the moment of their conversion.” That conversation never took place. As a matter of fact, I don’t even believe there was any negotiation because Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the Father’s will.

Spurgeon said, “God came here in human form, not bound to be obedient; but “being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient”; obedient to his own law, and fulfilled every jot and tittle of it. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And his obedience is ours, if we believe.” So you see, Jesus was perfectly obedient because He knew we wouldn’t be. He knew we were sons of wrath and disobedience when He saved us, and then He made children of the light.

Now, I’m a secure child of God, but there are days when it feels like the darkness will not lift and I have gone too far and Jesus, in all of His love and mercy, reminds me of the atonement that He secured for me over 2,000 years ago on an old rugged cross. My sins, my mess ups, my mistakes, my depression, my habits, and hangups were nailed to the cross and Jesus had already declared His victory over them.

So if you’re reading this and you’re having one of those days, remember He’s not done with you yet. He loves you and He still says to us, “Neither do I condemn you, go, and sin no more!.”

Sermon: “The Gospel of John” by Dr. Steve Brown

Hey Guys,

It’s been a bit since I written, but I intend to write some more soon when I have more time. A couple of days ago I was browsing through the website of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and I found this sermon by one of my favorite pastors to listen to, so I thought I would share it here for you to enjoy as well.

The Transcendence of God

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?Who knows enough to give him advice?And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)

I’ve been given the privilege by God and my church to teach the adult Sunday School class temporarily for the next few weeks and this week’s lesson is over the transcendence of God. As I began studying for the lesson, I began see all over again how fascinating and how awesome that the God we serve really is. I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts on this lesson.

Last week, we started learning about who God is. We learned that God is a Spirit and we learned is active. Not only is He active, but He is actively provisional, always willing and able to care for His children. We also learned that He is a person that identifies Himself with a name, through actions, and personal relationship with His people (Exodus 3:13-15; Matthew 6:30-33; John 8:58).

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘transcendence’ as ‘existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe’.

As we look at the transcendence of God, I want to grasp that God has no limitations. Let that soak in for a minute.

We serve a no limits God!

God is not limited by time and space.
God is not limited by the physics.
God is not limited by circumstance or trouble.

God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

Omnipresence means that God is not limited to geography. He is everywhere at all times.
Omniscience means that God is not limited to a human mindset. He knows everything in the past, present, and, future.
Omnipotence means that God is not limited by frailty. He is all-powerful.

When we truly understand that the God we serve is unlimited in anything and everything, I believe that will be the beginning to our minds opening up to praying big and thinking big.

So many times we face circumstances that our out of control and we feel powerless and hopeless but, we serve an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present God that is able to help us in our time of need. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Hebrews 4:15, 16:

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”                          – Hebrews 4:15, 16 (NKJV)

We can come boldly before God’s throne and ask of Him anything and I believe He will hear and help us!

The Lord of Our Dance

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”
– Psalm 139:14-17 [English Standard Version]

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
– Jeremiah 1:5 [English Standard Version]

“The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent andmake no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.”
– Zephaniah 3:17 [Amplified Bible]

“Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!”
– Sydney Carter, The Lord of the Dance

Today in church, I heard a hymn that I’d never heard of before, The Lord of the Dance. As I sat and listened to words, I thought about how much God loves us. As a matter of fact, it occurred to me, God doesn’t just love us, He’s in love with us. We are His creation. He thought about each and every one of us long before creation and even now. He thinks of all of us and according to David and Jeremiah, the thoughts that he thinks about us are good thoughts of peace, prosperity, joy, and loving kindness. I know this sounds like a subject that Joel Osteen would preach on but stick with me here. Think about it, we’re sinful human beings. Sinful to our very core. About our nature, The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith states the following:

“Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body…From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.”
– London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Looking at that, I wonder how God could possibly love me much less want to dance with me. I’m humbled when I remember that even though I am sinful, He sees me sinless through the blood of His son, Jesus Christ. There’s a song that I used to sing in church that says “When He sees/He sees the blood of the Lamb/He sees me as worthy yet not as I am/He sees me in garments as white as the snow/For the Lamb of God is worthy and He’s washed me, this I know”. God sees beyond our fault and looks to our need. When He saves us, He brings us back to life with his dance of irresistible grace and after that we are forever His and He is forever ours.

“The sheep that are My own hear and are listening to My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never lose it or perish throughout the ages. [To all eternity they shall never by any means be destroyed.] And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand.”
– John 10:27, 28 [Amplified Bible]

Thanks for reading, and remember that you are loved by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Our Only Comfort

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – [Romans 14:7-8 ESV]

“What is thy only comfort in life and death? That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.” – [The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1]

When I was a boy, my grandmother made me a refrigerator magnet out of plastic material and yarn with a picture of a boy  holding a satchel over his shoulder and sub-caption read, “You can’t run from God.”

I believe that everything preaches a sermon and the sermon that this refrigerator magnet preached was one of the omnipresent love of God.

As I read these verses and this quote from the Heidelberg Catechism, I am reminded of the words of Fanny Crosby’s Blessed Assurance:

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine
O What foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

What a thought that we belong in life and in death. Our family and friends can go with us but when we pass from this life to the next, Jesus will still be with us.