The Issue of Pain and Suffering, and “God Sightings” in Hilltop Urban Church; an Evangelical Free in Wichita, Kansas

Hilltop Urban Church is an Evangelical Free that is located in Wichita, Kansas. They have a program called “God Sightings” that they feature in their Sunday morning meetings. But in an environment that can be a very “ra ra” what do people who are dealing with the issue of pain and suffering supposed to do? That is what this post is about at The Wondering Eagle

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

C.S. Lewis in “The Problem of Pain”

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

C.S. Lewis in “A Grief Observed”

“I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are!
Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air? What makes you keep on talking?
I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you.But if it were me, I would encourage you.
    I would try to take away your grief.Instead, I suffer if I defend myself,
    and I suffer no less if I refuse to speak.

Job 16:2-6 NLT

This post is being influenced by the ongoing medical situation in my family. I traveled back to Fresno, California on January 20 and saw my Mom. My Mom is in the hospital dealing with vasculitis, low grade lymphoma, steroid induced diabetes and a stroke. Some of the treatments are going well. For example her platelet count is almost normal and her white blood cells are almost normal. The doctor believes she is getting better.  However its been a day by day situation with my Mom’s mood in flux. On January 20 in the morning she didn’t recognize me, later in the afternoon she did and she was angry for me for traveling cross country to see her. On Saturday her mood had changed and she thanked me for being there and we had some pleasant conversations. Sometimes she was cold and she asked me to hold her hand. I did that as she sometimes fell off to sleep, and I sat by her bedside. I spent a couple of late nights helping my Mom. On Friday night at 10:35 or so she wanted a turkey sandwich and I was able to get one for her. But the situation and the challenges that remain still exist. I told my Mom that I will be flying back to California in the February/March time frame to help out. The darkest time during the ordeal when my Mom was depressed and talked about wanting to die. I spent time just trying to tell her how much she is loved. It was like the roll of care giver was reversed. Once in my life my Mom took care of me, now it felt like I was taking care of her. Its hard to be away from her, and really my sister and Dad are carrying the brunt of the burden. I am in touch with all of them daily, even from the Washington, D.C. area. But I write about all this in the context of pain and suffering because of something I noticed on the webpage of Hilltop Urban Church.

 

Hilltop Urban Church and Wichita, Kansas

Wichita is the largest city in Kansas. The Arkansas River passes through the city and as of the most recent census the metropolitan area is at 644, 610. Wichita is known as the “Air Capitol of the World” and contains  Airbus North America EngineeringBoeing Corporation, Bombardier Aerospace, and Cessna Aircraft Company. There are more aviation companies that are present, but those are a few that exist. Wichita State University is the third largest university in Kansas, and also located here. And as I close this section out one fun fact about Wichita. Wichita is where Pizza Hut grew out of, it was started by 2 college students at Wichita State University in June of 1958.

Hilltop Urban Church was planted in the 1980’s by First Evangelical Free of Wichita. Its roots started out with Marjorie Phelps who wanted to lead a Child Evangelism Fellowship Bible club in her backyard. The original name of the organization was Good Samaritan Ministries. It was a thrift shop and food pantry. In 1987 Dennis Hasselbarth became its pastor when Marjorie Phelps moved away from Wichita. In time house churches were then promoted but it appears as if Hilltop gets together for a worship event on Sunday mornings. It appears to be more informal than others. One of the things they do is what is called “God Sightings.” I  will actually get into that in the next section. Today Hilltop Urban Church is led by Eddie Hall. Eddy came to Hilltop in 2007 and became chief of staff in 2013. Eddie leads Living Stones Associates

 

God Sightings in Hilltop Urban Church

Hilltop pushes house churches and people live in that setting. Yet, they get together on Sunday mornings for worship and more. At Hilltop Urban Church they have a program called “God Sightings” In this program people share testimonies of what God has done in the past week. I imagine those testimonies are of people growing, safety reports, wellness and more. It appears members of Hilltop submit them through their website. I also am assuming that they can probably turn them in through their house church leaders or email them directly. While this may all sound encouraging there is one potential issue that I would like to raise with “God Sightings.”

 

Evangelicals and Pain and Suffering

One of the hardest issues in Christianity is the issue of pain and suffering. It is an issue that tested even C.S Lewis. He tackled the topic in a book called “The Problem of Pain,” and many Christians like to use the following quote from the book. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” However that was followed up by another situation that was even more difficult, even for C.S. Lewis.  C.S. Lewis watched as cancer ravaged and eventually took the love of his life Joy Davidman. Under a fictions pen name of N.W. Clark he wrote “A Grief Observed” which showed his deep disappointment, wavering faith and overwhelming grief. Even Lewis wrestled this difficult issue – and struggled with it immensely. All too often many Christians like to quote Lewis from the first book and go strongly silent on the second.  I often wonder how many people even know about the second book to be honest with you.

I write this as I reflect on Hilltop Urban Church’s advocating of God Sightings. I don’t mean to be flippish or difficult, but I wonder how many people dealing with the topic of pain and suffering feel while being in an environment that is more of a “ra ra” mentality.  Such environments can be crushing and faith killing for those dealing with a long slow death terminal situation of cancer, or many other diseases. Its kind of like what holidays can be like for those who have lost loved ones. Holidays can be profoundly hard to navigate when you are reminded of your grief. I honestly wonder if this is part of the reason why suicides actually uptick during Christmas time.  Pain and suffering comes in many forms. It can come in the form of an elderly female who has to surrender her drivers license because of her failing vision. For another it could come in having a child addicted to opiates who are now engaging in criminal activity. This issue of pain and suffering can break, crush and overwhelm people. It deals with the darker side of humanity I would suggest, and its an issue no one is immune from. We all will deal with this topic at one time on our life. When Christians have a “ra ra” approach it can be devastating for those experiencing deep grief. I would propose its almost like Job’s friends who mean well, but cause pain in the end.

The point of this post is to challenge Eddie Hall in a tender way. While people want to share and should share good news, and things that happen in faith settings; I sincerely hope those in difficult situations will still be encouraged. Because if not, then people can walk out week after week in hearing good news while they are struggling to get through the day or the situation they are in. In the course of time it can break them. My family’s situation is hard and challenging. In talking to my Mom this evening I am reminded of that issue further. For those from Hilltop Urban Church I want to give a shout out and hope they welcome this post and ponder it. Starting with this post I intend to start to write about individual church situations in the Midwest District of the Evangelical Free Church of America. As always guys I love you!

 

7 thoughts on “The Issue of Pain and Suffering, and “God Sightings” in Hilltop Urban Church; an Evangelical Free in Wichita, Kansas

  1. Eagle, thanks for sharing your heartfelt thoughts. There are a lot of layers to this aspect of church life. About a year ago, my pastor at the time was preaching on Job & one week he settled on Job 2:11-13. He made the point that while Job’s friends were not very helpful later in the narrative & got a lot of things wrong, in this particular passage, they got it right…

    Sometimes, one isn’t looking for words or preaching… just looking for a friend to *be* there & sit beside them & support them.

    Having said that, it’s always unpredictable how one (speaking for myself, really) will react to hearing of others’ faith triumphs. Most often, it’s an encouragement to hear about how the Lord is working in people’s lives & to hear their faith strengthened. It’s especially helpful to see someone remain faithful through the most difficult of times. One of my friends who has been through a long-standing hellish medical situation with her son, watching her son suffer over many years, signs every update with, “Still in His Strong Grip!” Her example of faith strengthens & encourages me, and often astounds & humbles me.

    But yes, there are also times when those testimonies are ineffectual & one’s circumstances just are so overbearing… Psalm 88, which ends, “…and darkness is my closest friend” comes to mind.

    But what does Psalm 88 — as bleak as it is — teach us? It had a profound effect on me after 9/11… what it teaches me is that the Lord knows how you feel, what you’re going through, and is big enough to handle whatever it is you’re throwing at him… even your pain & sadness & anger. I believe the whole point of Psalm 88 is where the writer is taking his pain… to the Lord… what a profound example of true faith.

    Easy for one to say when one is not in the middle of a faith crises, but it’s the parts of the bible like Psalm 88 that have gotten me through sometimes.

    Blessings.

    Like

  2. I’ll add this tidbit also…

    I once had a pastor who purported from the pulpit that, “If you’re not seeing miracles in your life, perhaps you should look at & examine your faith walk”, or words to that effect.

    I thought, “What a dreadful thing to say!”

    If anything, I believe that it’s the faith that unwaveringly continues in the absence of “miracles”… like my friend who signs her missives, “In His Strong Grip!”, that is the true kind of faith that the Lord is pleased with.

    Food for thought.

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    • The term “God Sightings” has this feel of Woo-Woo.
      Like sighting a UFO or Bigfoot or other Paranormal sightings..

      And where does this leave those of us who NEVER have a flat-out God Sighting(TM)?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pain and suffering is just part and parcel of life after the “fall”. I don’t know if we really have any way of knowing what the causes of individual painful situations are: Is it Satan, like a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour? Is God punishing us, or is he forging us into something stronger? Did we just make a stupid decision? Did someone else make a stupid decision that hurt us? How can we tell?
    When I was 18, a man undergoing chemotherapy treatment and was not supposed to be driving passed out at the wheel and t-boned my car. I suffered major head trauma. The man made a stupid decision and almost killed me.
    The left side of my skull was so crushed that the neurosurgeon couldn’t put all the peices back together. I have lived most of my life with a hole a little larger than a quarter in my skull, just above my ear. The doctor opted not to,put in a metal plate – if my body rejected the plate, I would not have survived the second surgery to remove the plate.
    Did God or Satan have anything to do with the accident? I don’t know! I have no doubt that God was at work in my recovery. There was a 50/50 chance that I would never come out of the coma – I was only in a coma for 32 hours. The chances that I would ever be able to function independently were slim to nil — I couldn’t walk without help; if I tried to stand I toppled over …..
    6 months after the accident, I enrolled in college. The first two semesters in college was an uphill battle, almost nightmarish because of memory and concentration problems. (The first few times my own brother visited me in the hospital, I didn’t know who he was!). Now, my keen memory astounds my husband, but it took work!
    Okay, David. Now that I’ve told you about the accident that almost took my life away in more ways than one, I Can say try and be patient with your mom, as well as yourself. I haven’t had the same medical problems your mom has, but I have been in that emotional place – going from fighting fiercely; to acceptance of the situation; to anger; to hopeless and helplessness, thinking if this is how the rest of my life is going to be, I don’t want to live — and back through the cycle again …….. all in a matter of minutes….. When I was in the hospital, there were times when I had no use for anyone who couldn’t make me better and get me out of there! That meant I had no use for anyone. Sometimes my attitude was hateful. I understand your mom’s attitude and mood changes.
    Your mom needs you, and I think she knows that you have a need to be with her as much as you can. Don’t let her mood swings get to you. She can’t help it. I think you know that. I’m so glad to hear that the doctor believes she’s improving! May she continue to improve!
    Take care of yourself and stay strong. Hey, keep an eye on your dad and your sister – make sure they are taking care of themselves!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Why Do Neo-Calvinists have a Problem with Phillip Yancey? Plus Mike Hellum of Westmark Evangelical Free in Loomis, Nebraska Promotes “Disappointment with God.” | Wondering Eagle

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