Dancing In The Dungeon

9781462734993_COVER.inddOne reason for a blog is to disseminate information. Thus, I have published a book titled: “Dancing In The Dungeon: Suffering With Hopeful Joy For God’s Glory.” It can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as of this date. The Kindle edition should be available soon (God willing).

I wrote DITD first for my children to have a resource one day when life kicks them in the teeth… then for all my brothers and sisters in Christ to experience the God of comfort by considering how God comforted me in my trials (2 Cor 1:3-4). DITD is filled with practical ways God comforted me. It is written as one who’s walked a somewhat difficult path and found God faithful. DITD isn’t a philosophical treatise nor a bunch of ivory tower Bible studies about suffering. Three men who endorsed DITD say it better than I can…

Dr. Rick Lance (Executive Director of Alabama Baptists)

The problem of suffering has always haunted Christians. If you are a follower of Christ, why do you suffer? The answer to that age old question is not easy, but it may be obvious. Because we are followers of Christ, we experience suffering.

Ron Ethridge has transformed his story of dealing with suffering into a book which is a helpful guide for all of us. Dancing In The Dungeon is a personal story. Ron is very transparent in telling about those moments when he suffered most in life. He does so knowing that our God can use suffering for His glory. That is the theme of this book.

Dancing In The Dungeon is not only personal in nature, but Biblical in content and practical in application. As a fellow-sufferer, you find comfort and hope in the pages of this book. You will be encouraged to worship, pray and serve our Lord, even in the midst of suffering.

I am grateful that Ron Ethridge has shared his story and the redemptive lessons which can be learned from it. Experiences of suffering can be and should be a laboratory of learning for Christ followers.

Dr. Timothy George (Founding Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University)

Ron Ethridge is an ordained Baptist minister whose past service in the church follows a well-trodden trajectory. Brought up in the church, followed by undergraduate studies in a denominational setting, and then seminary at a fine theological school, Ron was ready to pursue a life of pastoral ministry in fulfillment of what he was sure was God’s calling on his life. Then, midstream, Ron found himself on the outside of the church looking in when he was asked to leave two of the churches he had been called to serve. Rather than precipitate a knock-down floor fight at the church business meeting, Ron decided to walk away.

Ron admits that he himself made mistakes along the way and that, in hindsight, he would do some things quite differently. This book is not about victimhood or retaliation. Rather, it is the anguished cry of a wounded shepherd, one who has come to understand that healing only happens in the broken places. Through Redemption Ministry, Ron Ethridge is now reaching out to all who are hurting with an emphasis on fellow ministers who find themselves the situation of conflict, and possibly termination, on that part of God’s flock they have been called to serve. Ron wants to come alongside his fellow struggling pastors and hurting Christians to offer encouragement and counsel.

Dr. Ray Pritchard (Keep Believing Ministries; Author of: An Anchor for the Soul, The Healing Power of Forgiveness)

We all go through hard times. As Ron Ethridge wisely reminds us, no one gets a free ride through life. That certainly includes pastors who serve in vocational ministry. If that’s the bad news, then the good news is that God uses those hard times for our good and his glory. Dancing in the Dungeon takes us to the ragged edge of life to show us that when we feel most forgotten, God is doing his best work in us. Of all the good things about this book, the best is that Ron brings us back again and again to the Bible so that we will discover what God has said about the hard times of life. Read it so that you will be equipped when your time comes to dance in the dungeon.

Here are a few chapter titles:

What God Can Do. Reflection: One Night From Hell

A Theology Of Encouragement. Reflection: Satan’s Achilles Heel…Forgiveness

Why Me, Why This, Why Now? Reflection: The Problem Of God And Evil

When God Is Silent. Reflection: Before All Hell Breaks Loose

Comfort When Betrayed. Reflection: Enemies As Emissaries of God’s Grace

Comfort In Personal Failure. Reflection: Mind Over Heart

When Sheep Attack Shepherds.

How To Fire A Minister.

Blessings.

Missions: A Point For Reference (North Korea)

Consider this testimony about Christians in North Korea and China.  It is written by Michael Oh and is from a blog I read regularly.

Tonight for the first time in my life I wept for North Korea.

On the second night of the Third Lausanne Congress taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, an 18 year-old girl from North Korea shared her story.

She was born into a wealthy family, her father an assistant to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong II. Eventually her father’s political fortunes shifted, and after being politically persecuted by the North Korean government, he, his wife, and his daughter escaped to China.

In China a relative brought her family to church where her parents came to know Jesus Christ. A few months later, however, her pregnant mother died from Leukemia. Her father started to study the Bible with missionaries and eventually the Lord gave him a strong desire to become a missionary to North Korea. But in 2001 he was reported as a Christian, was arrested by the Chinese police, and was returned to North Korea. Forced to leave his daughter behind in China, he spent three years in prison. During this time the girl shared that it only “made my father’s faith stronger” and that he “cried out to God more desperately rather than complain or blame Him.

After three years he was able to return to China where he was briefly reunited with his daughter.  Soon after, however, he gathered Bibles having resolved to return to North Korea to share Christ among that hopeless people.  He was given the opportunity to go to South Korea, but he turned them down. 

In 2006 he was discovered by the North Korean government and was arrested. There has since been no word from him. In all probability he has been shot to death publicly for treason.

In 2007 this girl, who at the time was not a Christian, was given the opportunity to go to South Korea. While still in China waiting at the Korean Consulate in Beijing to go to South Korea, she saw Jesus in a dream. Jesus, with tears in his eyes, called her by name and said, How much longer are you going to keep me waiting? Walk with me. Yes, you lost your earthly father, but I am your heavenly Father and whatever has happened to you is because I love you.

She knelt and prayed to God for the first time and realized that “God my Father loves and cares for me so very much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for me.” She prayed, “God here I am.  I just lay down everything and give you my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength.  Please use me as you will.”

Now God has given her a great love for North Korea. She shared that, Just as my father was used there for God’s kingdom, I now desire to be obedient to God. I want to bring the love of Jesus to North Korea.

She closed with the following words:

I look back over my short life and see God’s hand everywhere. Six years in North Korea, 11 years in China, and a time of being in South Korea. Everything that I experienced and love, I want to give it all to God and use my life for His kingdom. I hope to honor my father and bring glory to my heavenly Father by serving God with my whole heart.

I believe God’s heart cries out for the lost people of North Korea.  I humbly ask you, my brothers and sisters, to have the same heart of God.  Please pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother and now me will one day come down upon the people of North Korea… my people.

How many of us so easily choose the path of comfort and safety. The path that is our answer to the question, “What is best for me?” But so many of those whom God has used to make some of the greatest Kingdom impact have been those who have not made decisions based on “what is best for me?” (at least “best” in a worldly sense). They made decisions, or perhaps for some it seemed like there was really no decision to make at all, based on an undeniable, unshakable, “illogical”, “foolish” passion for Jesus Christ and for His kingdom glory among the lost.

For this girl’s father there was a “safe” path before him.  The door was open for him to go to South Korea where there was political freedom and religious freedom, where he and his family could have been safe.  No prison, no persecution, no pain.  Instead he chose the path of danger that led him, Bibles in hand, back to North Korea, the homeland that he loved. 

And now his daughter has determined to follow that same path.

Paul wrote the following words in 2 Corinthians 5:13-21.

If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

May God grant us the grace to serve with undeniable, unshakable, illogical, and foolish passion for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom glory among the lost.  And may we discover the joy in knowing that such a life is a part of the glorious answer to the question of what is truly best for me.

Pastor With Brain Cancer (Matt Chandler)

The link below will take you to Pastor Matt Chandler as he describes his theology of suffering.  Last Thanksgiving he had a seziure that revealed the presence of a malignant brain tumor.  In this video he explains his journey and how his understanding of God’s grace is sufficient for every situation… including the unexpected.  His testimony lasts 27 minutes, then CJ Mahaney gives a few thoughts regarding suffering, after which John Piper prays for Matt (This takes place at 46 minutes into the video.  This is a blessing!).  You may not agree with all of Matt’s theology, but you can’t argue with his faith and hope in God.

http://vimeo.com/10959675

Pastor With Brain Cancer (Matt Chandler)

Matt Chandler is the pastor of The Village Church of Flower Mound, Texas… a Southern Baptist Congregation.  Each week he delivers God’s Word to 6,000 people.  He is 35 years old… has three children… and has been considered one of the up and coming stars in the Christian faith.  Then on Thanksgiving day of 2009, he had a seizure after feeding his infant daughter.  He woke up in the hospital and tests revealed he had cancer in his brain.  A very serious form that can be fatal.  Click here to read the article from MSNBC (Not a particularly Christian platform!).

But what is worth considering is how he is teaching the world, and especially God’s people, how to suffer for God’s glory!  Consider a few quotes from the MSNBC article…

Chandler is trying to suffer well. He would never ask for such a trial, but in some ways he welcomes this cancer. He says he feels grateful that God has counted him worthy to endure it. He has always preached that God will bring both joy and suffering but is only recently learning to experience the latter.

Since all this began on Thanksgiving morning, Chandler says he has asked “why me?” just once, in a moment of weakness.

He is praying that God will heal him. He wants to grow old, to walk his two daughters down the aisle and see his son become a better athlete than he ever was.  Whatever happens, he says, is God’s will, and God has his reasons. For Chandler, that does not mean waiting for his fate. It means fighting for his life.

Chandler’s long, meaty messages untangle large chunks of Scripture, a stark contrast to the “Eight Ways to Overcome Fear” sermons common to evangelical megachurches that took off in the 1980s. His approach appeals, he believes, to a generation looking for transcendence and power.

His theology teaches that all men are wicked, that human beings have offended a loving and sovereign God, and that God saves through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection — not because people do good deeds.

Chandler’s cancer is a “3” on a 1 to 4 scale with 4 being the worst…

Chandler says learning he had brain cancer was “kind of like getting punched in the gut. You take the shot, you try not to vomit, then you get back to doing what you do, believing what you believe.

“We never felt — still have not felt — betrayed by the Lord or abandoned by the Lord. I can honestly say, we haven’t asked the question, ‘Why?’ or wondered, ‘Why me, why not somebody else?’ We just haven’t gotten to that place. I’m not saying we won’t get there. I’m just saying it hasn’t happened yet.”

At church, he has deflected sympathy with reassurances that this is a good thing, that he is not shrinking back. Chandler has preached the last two weekends and is planning trips to South Africa and England. He recently lost his hair to radiation but got a positive lab report last week and feels strong.

Chandler would rather this not have happened. But he is drinking life in — watching his son build sandcastles at the park, preaching each sermon as if eternity is at stake — and feeling a heightened sense of reality.

“It’s carpe diem on steroids,” he says.

Read the article (Link in first paragraph)… pray for Chandler… and prepare for the day when you may be called on to glorify God in suffering.

At Christmas, Don’t Forget Iraqi Christians

We live in America… we’re safe… we’re in our homes… we have caroling and worship services.  Yet in other parts of the world our brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted for their faith.  I just read an article that brought Revelation 1:9 back to the forefront of my mind this Christmas season.  You can click here for the article, but below are a few exerpts.

The deadly Christmas Eve ambush of a Christian bus driver in Iraq Thursday and a bombing earlier this week targeting a 1,200-year-old church are driving Iraq’s few remaining Christians quietly underground in the hours before the holy day begins.

Christmas has bumped into Shiite Islam’s most mournful ceremony this year, forcing Iraqi Christians to shutter their homes and hide the signs of their celebration.

Midnight Mass will again be observed in daylight across Baghdad, and security around churches is heavier for a community that’s been threatened by sectarian violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Jesus said that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.  We tend to forget that in our little safe protected world.  We forget that there are many Christians around the world for whom identifying with Jesus means their life is in peril.  As Paul wrote, “It has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29).

While we assemble in our churches for singing, praise, and fellowship… let us not forget what others who share our faith are enduring.   We need to lift them up in prayer… asking God to strengthen them in the faith.  Yes, this is a time of celebration… but maybe it needs to be tempered with a little dose of reality.

The Joy Of Suffering

The title of this post may seem odd… but it is thoroughly Biblical!  Consider the following texts…

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Acts 5:40 When they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.  25  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…

Isn’t it amazing that the early Christians were joyful IN persecution?  They didn’t whine, gripe, complain, or fuss that their life was tough.  In fact, they celebrated!  They considered their persecution as a blessed gift from God.  Their perspective was that God was increasing their rewards in heaven.

Perspective is everything.  They weren’t tied to this world.  They knew it was passing away and is temporary.  Thus they were willing for the goods of this life to be plundered because they were looking to their reward in heaven.

I want to be like them.  I want to have an awareness of God in the moment… not just in hind sight.  Oh God… please give me a heart and passion for you that is able to rejoice always!

ESV