What does it Mean to Minister? Michael Sulsona’s Story

These days, when we hear the word “minister,” we’re likely to think of a preacher in a pulpit delivering a sermon to a church full of people. Or we may think of a top government official such as the Prime Minister of England, who holds great power over the citizens.

So it may be surprising to hear that the real meaning of minister is a servant: someone who serves others. Real ministry happens every time we serve the needs of other people—even if it has nothing to do with churches or governments.

Lowe's employees David, Marcus, and Souleyman fix Michael Sulsona's wheelchair

Lowe’s employees fix Michael Sulsona’s wheelchair

Michael Sulsona, of Staten Island, New York, experienced this kind of ministry one day when he was shopping in his local Lowe’s Home Improvement store. He was just rolling along through the aisles in his wheelchair . . . .

Oh, I guess I should mention that in 1971, while serving as a Marine in Vietnam, Michael Sulsona stepped on a land mine and lost both of his legs above the knee. He’s had to use a wheelchair to get around ever since.

So as I was saying, Sulsona was rolling through the aisles of his local Lowe’s store, accompanied by his wife Frieda, when his ailing wheelchair fell apart on him . . . again . . . .

As it turns out, it couldn’t have happened at a better place!

Lowe’s, of course, sells not only all sorts of appliances and accessories for a well-equipped home, but also all the parts and hardware that a home handyman might want. If something needs fixing, chances are Lowe’s has what’s needed to fix it.

But it wasn’t just the hardware that made this particular store the best possible place for Sulsona’s wheelchair to break down.

It was the people.

For more ministry and broken wheelchairs, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events

How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 4

Click here for Part 1 of this article.

Click here for Part 2 of this article.

Click here for Part 3 of this article.

It’s time to face the music. It’s time to get busy and struggle with our faith. It’s time to search for what God is trying to tell us in allowing so much tragic suffering and death. It’s time to consider what God may be asking us to do about it.

First, we must simply admit:

7. We will never fully understand God’s actions

In Part 1 I said that I can’t answer all of your questions about why God allowed particular people—some of them people you loved and cared about—to die of cancer, or in an automobile accident, or from a hurricane or flood. That’s because I don’t know why God allowed these things to happen.

Only God’s understanding is infinite. Our understanding is small and limited. Often, we simply don’t have enough information to understand why God allowed an innocent person to die, and their loved ones to suffer.

Sometimes the best we can do is to trust that God actually does love everyone involved, and that in the eternal scheme of things there is some reason for what happened, even if it looks completely senseless to us.

Yes, if circumstances had been different, maybe things could have turned out better. However, God has to take into account all of the factors that affect our lives as they unfold. Those factors include the inexorable workings of a material universe that doesn’t care whether we puny humans live or die. They also include all of the human factors of love and hate, enlightenment and insanity, compassion and sadism, that make human life and human community so complex and tangled.

We humans see the particular circumstances that surround particular tragic events. God sees all of the circumstances, past, present, and future, near and far, that influence those events.

We see only the immediate aftermath of deaths due to accidents, cancer, or heart disease—and of natural disasters that claim thousands of lives. God sees the eternal consequences of those events.

For more on our spiritual journey in the midst of so much tragedy, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Spiritual Growth

How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 3

Click here for Part 1 of this article.

Click here for Part 2 of this article.

Part 2 dealt with God’s eternal perspective in creating and governing the universe and the people in it. One of the points made there was that from a modern, scientific perspective, there is no such thing as good and evil in nature. Diseases, accidents, and natural disasters are just part of the way nature works.

And yet, when disease, accident, and natural disaster strike us humans, it feels evil. It can drive us to radically question our faith. It can cause us to question the existence, or at least the benevolence, of a God who created such a violent universe, and who watches while we supposedly beloved humans endure so much tragedy.

I hope Part 2 helped you to understand, or at least approach the idea, that natural causes of pain and suffering such as diseases, accidents, and natural disasters are linked to the existence of human evil, even if they are not evil in themselves. As I said earlier, evil is a moral and spiritual phenomenon. It exists only in the human heart, mind, and spirit.

And yet, there is a certain relationship or correspondence between spiritual evil and the almost casual cruelty of nature. That cruelty and violence affects human beings just as it does every other animal in nature.

In order to deal with it, we must look more closely at the nature of evil, and why it strikes even the innocent with crippling and fatal diseases and disasters. Evil is not merely a blind force. It has definite purposes and goals. That’s because it is a human force—even if it comes from a twisted, inhuman version of humanity.

For more on bad things happening to innocent people, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering

How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2

Click here for Part 1 of this article.

In Part 1, we talked about the painful struggles of life, our questioning of God, and how coming to realize that we don’t understand the way God runs this universe is a good place to start on our spiritual journey.

Now let’s look at the bigger picture, and see if we can look at our tragedy and existential angst from a broader and more spiritual perspective.

1. God looks at everything from an eternal perspective

God looks at our life on earth from a very different perspective than we do.

As we move along in life, experiencing its joys and its sorrows, we see only what we have been through, and what we are experiencing now. We have only a vague notion of what our future will hold. As our life unfolds, it often turns out very differently than we thought it would.

God has no such limitations of vision. And God is much more concerned with what our life will be like forever in heaven than with what it is like for the relative nanosecond that we are here on earth.

Yes, God is concerned about the pain and suffering we struggle with during our earthly lifetime. God feels our sorrows deeply, and grieves with us.

But God also knows that without the struggle, suffering, pain, and sorrow that we experience here on earth, we will never develop into the loving, compassionate, and merciful angels that God created us to become.

Life here on earth offers us moments of beauty and tranquility. And we should savor and thank God when we encounter them. However, the fact is that our heavenly life is determined by how we handle our challenges on earth.

God created a universe and an environment with diseases, accidents, and natural disasters that challenge us to grow and evolve on a physical level, an emotional level, and most importantly, on a spiritual level. Our most solid and substantial growth as human beings takes place during the difficult and painful challenges we face in life. Without them, there would be no motivation to grow and change into the angels God created us to be.

For more on God’s perspective vs. our perspective, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Science, Philosophy, and History

How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 1

Three Spiritual Conundrums have been submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life on a similar theme. First, from a reader named Tom:

I understand the concept of free will and that we were all given the ability to make choices. So while murders, war, rape, etc. are horrible, they are the result of our own free will. My question is, how do we deal with random bad events/illness happening to good people. I recently read about a 24 year old Christian man who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that eventually took his life a year later. He left behind a wife and young daughter. It is hard for me to comprehend why this man couldn’t be saved or why he was stricken with this in the first place.

Then a reader named Grace wrote:

I just read your article “If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?

I have asked myself those same questions and I appreciate your explaination. I understand what you are saying in those regards, but what about when people die not due to the sin of someone else? For example, a child (or adult) that passes because of Cancer? Or someone dies in a horrific car accident? What makes God decide that it is that persons time?

And Tom wrote more about his struggles with this issue:

I haven’t written in a while but have still been following your blog. I feel like I am losing my faith and I don’t know how to get it back. You already know I lost my parents and this past week a friend of mine passed. He was only 42 and died suddenly leaving behind a wife and three kids. I can’t reconcile how that could happen. It has made me question a lot more than I would like to admit. I have been going through a sort of existential dilemma filled with a lot of existential anxiety. How can one find the strength inside and in God to somehow see the good in these bad human experiences? Thanks.

Thanks, Tom and Grace, for opening up your hearts to ask these terrible, wrenching questions.

I wish I could say something simple to make it all better. I wish I could answer the question of why these tragedies happened to your friends and family. But the truth is, I can’t. These are questions that each of us must face within the depths of our own soul. And real answers come only with time and deep reflection.

It’s not that there aren’t any answers. It’s that satisfying answers come to us only through our own struggles with life, with God, and with our own mind and heart. These questions strike at the core of who we are as human beings. They touch the heart of our faith and our relationship with God.

I can’t tell you why particular people are maimed or killed in tragic circumstances. What I can do is offer some new perspectives that may help in the struggle for answers to these difficult and painful questions.

We’ll start by looking more closely at the experience of having our faith tested. It may not be easy reading, but these are not easy issues. If we’re going to find any real answers, we must dig deep. So please bear with me if some of what must be said temporarily adds to the pain. Like setting a dislocated shoulder or removing shrapnel from a wound, often we must endure further pain to get ourselves on a path toward spiritual and emotional healing.

If you can follow along on this journey with me, I’ll then offer some thoughts and ideas that may help as you struggle to understand why tragedies such as diseases, accidents, and natural disasters happen to innocent, undeserving people.

Dealing with these big questions is going to take some time. There are plenty of superficial, pat answers out there. Finding real answers requires changing our perspective on the universe and on human society. That will require us to traverse some territory that may at first seem unlikely or even impossible. All I ask is that you read and consider carefully what I have to say.

So let’s dig into it.

For more on when bad things happen to good people, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Spiritual Growth

Ihor Lakatosh’s Story: How Healing the Body Helps the Soul

Ihor Lakatosh with Dr. Gennadiy Fuzaylov

Ihor Lakatosh with Dr. Gennadiy Fuzaylov

(Photo credits: AP / Michael Dwyer)

For those who have a healthy, working body, it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s only when our body isn’t working so well that we realize how profound an impact our body has on our life . . . and on our soul.

Young Ihor Lakatosh, from Lviv Ukraine, was on the wrong side of this reality. When he was about three years old, he suffered burns on 30% of his body. Due to inadequate treatment, in the aftermath he lost his ability to walk, and had to live with one arm fused to his body. As a result of these and other physical issues, he was severely malnourished, and his caretakers thought he was mentally impaired.

Now, however, Ihor’s story has taken a happier turn. You can read the full AP News piece here.

Through a series of connections initiated by the director of the orphanage where Ihor lives, he was able to travel to Boston thanks to the work of a nonprofit organization called Doctors Collaborating to Help Children. In Boston, he has received a series of operations and recuperative therapy thanks to another nonprofit: Shriners Hospitals for Children, whose Boston hospital specializes in treating children with severe burns.

The results?

Here they are in Ihor’s own words (through an interpreter):

I can do everything now. I can go to school . . . I can go outside and play. I can eat by myself. I can go home and do my homework. I can go to bed by myself. I can do everything by myself. I can live a life now.

There was nothing wrong with Ihor’s mind. And his spirit remained strong through it all. What he needed was a working body.

Those who work to repair physical injuries and impairments are doing more than healing the body. They are helping the soul.

For more on how healing the body helps the soul, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events, Pain and Suffering

Isaiah Austin’s Marfan Syndrome: Another Life or Death Choice

Isaiah Austin in an interview about his Marfan syndrome diagnosis

Isaiah Austin in an interview about his Marfan syndrome diagnosis

(Photo credit: ESPN.com news services)

Three months ago we wrote about Isaiah Austin, an inspiring young man who overcame blindness in one eye to pursue his basketball career at Baylor University: The Basketball Eyes of Isaiah Austin: “Your Excuse or Your Story?”

Since then, Austin has continued his strong drive toward a basketball career in the NBA (National Basketball Association).

Now, however, he has received devastating news. As a precursor to being a likely NBA draft pick this year, he underwent medical testing to assess his health and fitness for professional sports.

The results?

Isaiah Austin has Marfan syndrome, a rare disease (about 1 in 5,000 people have it) that affects the body’s connective tissues. Have you heard stories of athletes dropping dead in the middle of a game? Most likely it was caused by a ruptured heart or aorta due to Marfan syndrome.

For Austin, it means that his dreams of a basketball career in the NBA are over. Playing competitive sports would mean playing with death. For the full story on ESPN, see: “Isaiah Austin has Marfan syndrome.”

When we wrote about Austin previously, he had faced—and made—a choice about whether to give up on his dream, or pursue it despite his disability.

Now Isaiah Austin faces another personal life or death choice.

For more on Isaiah Austin’s life or death choice, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth, Sports and Recreation
Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly, Fryeburg, Maine, August 2012

Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly

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