Author Archives: Vaneetha

About Vaneetha

Vaneetha underwent twenty-one surgeries by age thirteen. Years in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from schoolmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Abandonment. Unwanted divorce. Vaneetha Rendall Risner begged God for grace that would deliver her. But God offered something better: his sustaining grace. We encourage you to visit and comment at http://danceintherain.com

What True Comfort Looks Like: It Doesn’t Whitewash Pain

 

true comfort

 

A dear friend of mine recently learned that her husband has cancer.

When the doctors first detected an abnormality, they said not to be concerned. It was probably nothing.  But they’d run tests just in case. Yet despite their assurances, the tests came back positive for malignancy.

My friend ran into a neighbor soon after she heard the news. Her neighbor sympathized but immediately dismissed her concerns saying that countless people get cancer and ultimately live long healthy lives. She needn’t worry. It would undoubtedly be fine.

How did her neighbor know that? What if it wasn’t fine?

My friend left that encounter feeling misunderstood and minimized.  Her neighbor doesn’t know how this will turn out. No one does. To my friend, easy comfort and reassurance feels hollow. She doesn’t want a, “Don’t worry, it’ll all be fine,” type of comfort. That comfort feels whitewashed; it isn’t based on truth.

Why do we offer whitewashed comfort anyway? I have done it myself so I’m not indicting others, but I wonder why it’s our go-to-comfort. Perhaps it’s because we want our friends to feel better immediately. Even if our comfort is temporal, we want them to move on and not dwell on the negative. And we subtly believe that God will be more glorified in healing and wholeness than in sickness and brokenness.

Is that true comfort? Is it helpful to hear anecdotes of people who had a good outcome? Or being quoted encouraging survival statistics? Is it really that reassuring knowing 70% of people have a good outcome, when 30% don’t? Is our comfort based on assuming we’ll be on the fortunate side?

The world only knows this type of comfort, and it is offered by most believers as well. People assured me that God would be most glorified in my infant son’s healing. Besides, his heart surgeon had an 80% success rate. But when he died at two months old, God was glorified in a different way.

When I was first diagnosed with post-polio, friends felt sure that I wouldn’t deteriorate physically. I would beat the odds, and that would glorify God. But as post-polio is setting in, I realize I can glorify God even if my body isn’t healed.

When my ex-husband left, everyone had God-glorifying stories of broken marriages being restored. They were sure that would be our story too. But I learned that God could still be glorified after a heartbreaking divorce.

When people keep assuring me that I’ll have a positive outcome, it feels like my pain is being dismissed. And my friend felt the same way as she was constantly being “cheered up.” She wanted true comfort. Comfort that would hold her up whether the outcome was positive or negative. Comfort that would not constantly change if the news unfolded unfavorably. Comfort that was not based on wishful thinking.

My friend then told me where she had found true comfort. She had memorized the Heidelberg catechism earlier, and as she was processing the news of cancer, the words came back to her. And these words brought a waterfall of comfort, especially because her husband was a believer too. This was true comfort for both of them.

When she had first memorized this passage, they were just words. Good theology. A great framework. But now, they were like springs of living water.

I vaguely remembered the catechism when she began, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?

She paused and then said, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

I was startled by the power of this simple statement. The greatest comfort we can have is to know that we belong to Jesus. That nothing can separate us from his love or snatch us from his hand. Our lives belong to Christ and in death we will still belong to him.

She went on, “He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil.”

His precious blood has redeemed me. There is no outstanding debt with God. And Satan has no power over me, so there is nothing to fear. This is true comfort.

She continued speaking, enunciating her words slowly, thoughtfully. They weren’t just words. Each phrase was packed with meaning. She continued, “He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed all things must work together for my salvation.”

At this point, I was on the edge of tears. Scripture was woven through every line, beautifully entwined to give a breathtaking picture of true comfort.

No matter what happens, God will preserve me. He knows every detail of my life and every hair on my head. Nothing can happen to me apart from his sovereign will. Everything that happens to me is for my good and God’s glory.

Though it’s for my good, it’s not always pleasant or easy. On the contrary, much of it is painful and hard and I wish it would pass me by. But I do know that it is best for me. Matthew 10:26-31 and Romans 8:28, two pivotal passages in my understanding of God’s sovereignty, promise me that. While I generally don’t offer those Scriptures in response to the pain of others, both have brought me immeasurable comfort in my own suffering.

Why had I not meditated on this Scripture-drenched catechism question before?

She finished, “Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Because we are assured of eternal life in heaven, we can endure anything in this temporal life on earth. When we know our end is glorious, we can joyfully and willingly live for him no matter what our circumstances.

When my friend finished reciting, I was speechless. I had called to comfort her, and she was comforting me with the comfort she had received from the Lord.

I decided to commit this part of the Heidelberg catechism to memory as well. When life falls apart, I need to remember these precious words- timeless truths, based on the eternal promises of God in Scripture.

This is true comfort, and it is unchanging.

 

 

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Who Is Jesus to You?

sin good friday

 

I take my sin far too lightly.

As a result, I can be almost blasé about the gospel. I know it is good news, but I easily forget that it is staggeringly good news.   

To reorient my heart, I have been asking God to show me my sin afresh.

He has. It’s been alarming. And I can only see the tiniest corner of it. I know that beneath my respectable exterior lies a tangle of questionable motives and thoughts.

In addition to being intentionally self-examining lately, in reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days, I have been struck by my similarity to the disciples. I can all-too-closely identify with their sin.

Like Peter I’m impulsive. I speak before I think and regret my rashness later. I have denied Christ in the company of non-Christians, wordlessly listening to their comments without mentioning my faith. ‘I want to be a silent witness,’ I rationalize, but the truth is I just want to be silent.

Like James and John, I want power and recognition. I may do it in a subtle, it doesn’t-matter-to me way (perhaps have my mother ask for me, as they did) but I love being recognized. I want to sit at Jesus’ right or left hand, but I am not willing to drink the cup that accompanies it.

Like Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, my spirit may be willing, but my flesh is weak. I want to pray more fervently, evangelize more boldly and live more selflessly, yet I fail miserably. I give in to my natural tendencies in the same way the disciples gave in to sleep.

And I’m even like Judas, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. While I am appalled at Judas’ actions, he was a man who saw Jesus as a means to an end. Perhaps he thought following Jesus would result in money, or prestige, or power if Jesus overthrew the Roman government. Whatever it was, Judas didn’t get what he wanted from Jesus. He was following Jesus for what he could gain, not because of who Jesus was.

Paul Tripp recognizes this tendency in us as he asserts in his devotional, “Each of us wants God to sign the bottom of our personal wish list, and if he does, we celebrate his goodness. But if he doesn’t, we begin to wonder if it’s worth following him at all.”

I remember being surprised when my son was diagnosed with a heart problem. I was unconsciously operating on prosperity gospel principles –  that financial blessing and physical healing are always God’s will for us.  Well-meaning people around me reinforced that twisted theology, encouraging me to “claim the healing” I was entitled to. In that view, Jesus is more of a good luck charm or magic genie than a Savior, as he is supposed to fix up our lives, heal our diseases, and make us successful. Without God’s severe mercy, I might still believe that today.

I didn’t just see my how my sin was similar to the disciples’ sin; I saw myself in everyone who was responsible for Jesus’s death.

Pilate washed his hands and declared himself innocent as if it were that easy to remove his guilt. He knew that condemning Jesus to die was wrong, but he was so afraid of the people rioting that he did it anyway. I’m afraid of people too. I worry about what they’ll think of me. Taking an unpopular stand for what’s right is so much harder than making a safe consensus choice.

Then there was the crowd. Easily swayed. One moment they were laying their coats down and shouting “Hosanna” and the next minute they were shouting “crucify him.” When they saw that Jesus wasn’t the deliverer they thought he’d be, they all turned against him. I too have mentally turned against people who have disappointed me and unthinkingly followed the crowd as well.

And lastly there were the chief priests and Pharisees. They were the instigators of the plot to kill Jesus because they hated him. Surely, I couldn’t be like them.

But to my bitter regret, as I sat with Scripture, the Pharisees were the ones I most closely identified with.  

The Pharisees appeared to do it all right. They tried to follow the law. They were teachers. They studied the Scriptures. They were well respected. They justified their behavior because Jesus was a rebel and, in their minds, had blasphemed against Yahweh.

And as I look at their sin, it’s frighteningly close to mine. They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. They did all their deeds to be seen by others. They loved the places of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

They were blind to their sin. They were meticulous about their actions yet unconcerned about their attitudes. Outwardly they appeared righteous, but inwardly they were full of hypocrisy. Their motivations were hidden, even from themselves.

These religious leaders, who look chillingly like me, were most harshly criticized by Jesus. He called them blind guides. Hypocrites. Whitewashed tombs. A brood of vipers.

This similarity is horrifying and profoundly humbling.

Peter, James and John were saved by God’s grace and they went on to turn the world upside down through the power of the Spirit. (Acts 17:6). It would have been better for Judas and those who crucified Jesus had they never been born. (Matthew 26:24).

But the difference between these two groups was not in their character. They were all unrighteous at the core. The difference was how they viewed Jesus.

To the Jews, Jesus was a threat to their way of life and an ungodly man. To the crowds, one moment Jesus was a prophet and another moment he was a criminal. To Pilate, Jesus was an innocent man caught in the political crossfire. To Judas, Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, a powerful man who was useful at one time, but he was never Lord. Even at the Last Supper, when the other disciples all called Jesus “Lord,” (Matt 26:22) Judas still called him “Rabbi.” (Matt 26:25).

To the disciples, Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God. He was their Savior and Lord and they spent their lives proclaiming the good news of what Jesus had done on the cross. For without the cross, even the disciples, his closest friends, would have been eternally separated from God.

So, this Easter I realize how much I need forgiveness. The Lord knows my heart. My motives. The unkind thoughts that I dare not voice. He knows the evil I am capable of, and on the cross, he forgave it all.  I am not saved because I am good, but because he is good.

Because of his extravagant love and grace, despite my mixed motives and deceitful heart and my terrifying resemblance to those who crucified him, I will spend eternity with Jesus.

This. Is. The. Gospel.

Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

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