Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Test #3: Do you love the world or Him?

I should use the title "How do I know I love Him more than the world?"  I've got to be honest, I'm pretty fond of the world.  By "world" I mean my house, my cars, my job, vacations, etc.  Basically I find myself more "in love" with what He's given me than with Him.  This prompts me to ask the question if I love Him more.  I can't remember where I first heard it, I'm sure it was in a sermon somewhere, but there are multiple words in the Greek language which we translate "love" in English.  For example, I love my computer and I love my wife.  I certainly hope there is a different kind of love for my computer versus my wife.  I love football and I love my daughter.  I love the world and I love God.

1 John 2:15-17 reads as follows:
"Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the wold, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." NIV
Let's first look at "love" and try to get a better handle on which love John is discussing.  In the verses above the Greek word translated love is agape. The following is a brief description:
"THE NEW TESTAMENT LOVE-WORD agape has been so sanitized and compromised that we now have a word for love that we like. Of all the words for love studied so far, agape is the one word for love we shouldn’t like. The other loves are different; we’re supposed to like them.
The beautiful word hesed is the beautiful love: steadfast love. The gentle word racham is the gentle love: compassion. The delicious word philos has a great sandwich named after it: the philly cheese steak. These are all good loves. We can burn out showing all of them. But in their proper place and with the proper balance, these loves are supremely, satisfyingly human. They are also wonderfully divine.
But agape is a pain in the neck. Agape is brutal love.
Why else would the Greeks eschew this word? Was it because they knew what it really meant?
Yes, of course, because they knew that agape is the love-word for absolute, unself-centered, brutal sacrifice. Its central meaning for the New Testament derives from Jesus’ death on the cross: “For God so loved (agapao) the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is about God sacrificing his Son. Steadfast love, compassion, and delight are all part of God’s love for us, and they are all part of the sacrifice. But the sacrifice is agape. Jesus liked the sinners he spent time with; steadfast love was his only way of thinking; compassion for him was like breathing. But in his act of agape, his tone changed, and so did the tone of his disciples."
Hansen, D., & Goetz, D. L. (1998). Vol. 1: The power of loving your church : Leading through acceptance and grace. The pastor's soul series; Library of leadership development (99–100). Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House.
I want to show the difference between agape and philos for just a minute.  1 John 4:9,10 tells us that God showed us agape  by sending His Son to die on the cross for us, that He loved us not because we loved Him.  Contrast this with John 21:15-17 and Peter's response to Jesus.  I'm going to substitute agape and philos in there discussion to make the point of difference between the two:
"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you truly agapao Me more than these?'  'Yes Lord,' he said, 'You know that I phileo You.'  Jesus said, 'Feed My lambs.'  Again Jesus said, 'Simon son of John, do you truly agapao Me?'  He answered, 'Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You.'  Jesus said, 'Take care of My sheep.'  The third time He said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you phileo Me?'  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you phileo Me?'  He said, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileo you.'  Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep.'" - John 21:15-17 NIV
Peter is admitting to Jesus the kind of love he has for Him and its not the same kind of love that Jesus had for Peter!  1 John tells us that the Father is deeply committed to us to the point of sacrificing His Son for us, yet Peter says "You're a good friend."  Do you see the difference here?  I am called to agapao my wife as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25).  He loved me before I loved Him; He gave His life so that I might have life; His love came at a price to Him.

Let's bring this back to our test of whether we love Him or love the world.  Take a look at our passage with the Greek:
"Do not agapao the world or anything in the world.  If anyone agapao the world, the agape of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." NIV
 Are you willing to lay down your life in the pursuit of the world?  Will you sacrifice your family for the "cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does?"  I offer that you cannot have agape for more than one master.  Matt 6:24 tells us, "No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and agapao the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money." NIV.   I would offer that "money" in Matthew and "world" in 1 John are interchangeable; you can either love God or love the world, but not both.

I've got to tell you, the more I read this passage the more convicted I am of my sin, of my pursuit of my ends and not His.  I can see why Paul told us to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling!"  I think of the time I spend chasing after this world, the money I spend, the thoughts I think, the words out of my mouth...I could very easily spiral into doubt of my salvation.  And here is where I realize that as I look to myself, my track record, my ability, my commitment to Him; I miss the point.  He loved me first!  He paid the price already!  Here is how we are assured of our salvation even in the midst of our sin:
"This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us.  For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything." - 1 John 3:19,20 NIV
Does your heart condemn you for your pursuit of the world, for your sin?  I've found that salvation wrecks my enjoyment of sin because of the guilt, remorse and repentance His Spirit stirs within me.  By virtue of the fact you are convicted in your heart of your sin, You are saved.  Please remember that salvation is not based on your works (Eph 2:8,9) nor is your post-salvation life with Him!!  You can't get in because of you and you can't earn a continuing spot on the roster because of you either.  Your agape for Him is from Him, by Him, and through Him.  It is from His love for you that assurance is gained.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word today.  Please convict our hearts by Your Holy Spirit of the truth and guide us in Your way.  Thank you that our assurance is based on what You did, what You continue to do, on Your very character, and not on us.  I love you Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Assurance Test #2 - Obey His commands

Do you obey the Lord?  Not perfectly, or all the time, but is it in your mind to obey Him?  Let me ask it another way, when you are considering taking an action, are you asking yourself if it is pleasing to Him or in His will for you to do?  The point I'm trying to make is that if there is consideration of your actions in light of who He is, you're in!
"We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.  The man who says, 'I know Him,' but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in Him:  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." - 1 John 2:3-6 NIV (emphasis mine)
Jesus already gave us this test back in the gospel of John:  "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." - John 14:15 NIV.  

What exactly are the commands we're to obey?
"One of them, an expert in the law, tested [Jesus] with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'  Jesus replied:  'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'" - Matt 22:35-40 NIV
Do you see the connection between obedience and love?  Which comes first, love or obedience?  Who loved first?  John tells us later in his book, "We love because He first loved us." - 1 John 4:19.  If I were to put this in a flow chart it would go God loved me -> God saved me -> I respond in love and obey Him -> my obedience is loving Him and walking as His Son did on this earth.

Obedience is evidence, not currency for purchase, of my salvation.  It should be noted as well that the yoke Christ gives to us is not a burdensome list of regulations.  It is the yoke designed for people that are already tired of trying to earn their salvation.  "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." - Matt 11:28-30 NIV.

It just dawned on me, He wants me to love Him above all else.  Seriously, look at the verses above; look in His word and prove/disprove what I'm writing.  It looks like He wants me to love Him - obedience will follow as evidence of that love.  He wants my heart, not a list of acts that I've done either for Him or in His name to prove to Him why He should love me.  There was a group of men Jesus called "whitewashed tombs" because they had the obedience down, but they didn't have their hearts in the right place.

Let's bring this full circle.  The command is to love Him such that obedience results in a heart that is His.  Said another way, what do you get for the person who already has everything?  The only thing I have to give Him is my love.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tests for assurance

How do I know that the Lord saved me?  We saw in Philippians that Paul instructed us to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." - Phil 2:12b.  Peter tells us to do much the same thing in 2 Peter 1:10a, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure."  So before we get into all of this "personal work" to "ensure" I'm saved, I want to point out a few other verses to remind us Who is doing this work.
"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours" - 2 Peter 1:1 (emphasis mine)
"for it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose." -  Phil 2:13 (emphasis mine)
 "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him' - but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him?  In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." - 1 Cor 2:6-12 (emphasis mine)
We're going to embark on various "tests" that when appropriately applied add to our assurance of what the Lord did and what He continues to do in our lives, not how we have worked so hard to assure ourselves.  Said another way, these tests will give you objective evidence of what He is doing, not what you are doing.  I start with the verses above to make the following points:  1.  the faith you have, you received, and it is as precious as Abraham's, Peter's, Paul's and yes Jesus' faith in our Father; 2.  It is God who works in you, not your generation of effort to make yourself better; and 3. You were given the Spirit of God Himself when He saved you and it is by the Spirit we have any understanding of what "God has freely given us," and not enough intellectual work on our part to apprehend His grace.  Conclusion:  assurance is a mission of the Holy Spirit within each of us.  I encourage you to do as a friend of mine said to do, "Believe your belief and doubt your doubts."  The questions you ask are prompted by the Holy Spirit within you.

So with that preamble, what does John have for us?  To begin with he's writing to believers as opposed to unbelievers.  Chapter 2 of 1 John opens, "My dear children" which says to me he's writing to fellow family members.  It's possible I'm reaching some here, so please read for yourself and check what I've said against what the Holy Spirit shows to you of the mind of Him who inspired 1 John in the first place!  That said, I'm fairly confident I'm spot on and the rest of the book appears to reinforce that.

The first test I see is in verses 6 and 7, "If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin."  I believe John further describes this test in verses 8 - 10, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives."

Have you ever wondered why part of the "sinners' prayer" is the forgiveness of sins?  Why would this not be something that even a non-believer would do?  Let me ask it this way, if you're not convicted of an offense, of a wrongdoing, how likely are you to say you're sorry and ask forgiveness?  I see it much like "moral inertia" where you continue acting in a certain way until a "moral force" impacts you and changes the course of your actions.  Said another way, if you don't know its wrong you keep doing it.  John is saying that if you claim to be without offense you're a liar.  Furthermore John says that a right response to the Holy Spirit's conviction of our sin is confession and seeking forgiveness.  My friend, your question of assurance is in itself the evidence of your salvation!  If you were not His you would not recognize your sin against Him!

So, Test #1, are you lying to yourself saying that you walk in the light and have no sin, or does the Holy Spirit convict your spirit of your offenses against Him resulting in your confession of short comings?  Said another way, if your response to your sin is remorse, regret, repentance and seeking forgiveness - good news, you're in!

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You, Your word, or Your truth.  I so much want to get past the flaming darts of the accuser who would have me turned inwardly on how bad I am as opposed to responding in worship to You because of how holy You are.  Be with, make us effectual in the execution of Your will today.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blessed Assurance

There have been a number of deaths in our circle of friends lately.  We had another funeral on Wednesday this week for a man who had a heart attack while jogging.  Both of the funerals I attended spoke of the love of Christ, His redemption, and the fact that both men were now in heaven with their Father and Brother.  There was absolute assurance of their eternal life, that their loved ones would miss them only for a time before reuniting with them in glory.  It begs the question, "Am I really saved?"  I don't offer this as a flippant question, however I am comforted that I'm not the only one to ask it.  The apostle John wrote 1 John "so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13)

Whenever I struggle with my personal salvation (by the grace of God I can say that my bouts of doubt have decreased tremendously over the past 10-15 years as there is abundant evidence, at least to me, of the changes He wrought within me) it is usually in context not of His promises, but my doubt that those promises can cover me.  Said another way, I have a PhD in sin.  The idea that I am let off hook by His grace and mercy is at times overwhelming and I "can't" believe that He would save me.

I'd like to dive into where that "guilt" originates.  First of all I want to separate "guilt" from "shame".  Guilt is good.  Guilt says, "Poor choice; let's do it this way next time."  Shame says, "You're worthless.  Of course you sinned; that's all you do well.  Why would He waste His time with you?"  Guilt is short lived much like a corrective turn on the steering wheel to get you back in the middle of the road whereas shame is long lived like jerking the wheel, rolling the car, and sitting on the side of the road berating yourself for the rest of the day.

So why shame?  Do you know what "Satan" means?  It means "accuser."  Satan pours that venom in your ear that takes healthy guilt and remorse, the Holy Spirit within you trying to correct your steering, and turns them into hatred, self loathing, and the putrescence of hell oozing out of your pores.  You may think I'm overstating the result of the shame, but my experience is an overwhelming, physical sensation of weight pressing in on my chest, a desire to remove myself from all contact with people, and a dark cloud of self-loathing.  In short, not pretty.

Zechariah talks about Satan's accusations as well as God's response:
"Then He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?'  Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.'  Then he said to Joshua, 'See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.'  Then I said, 'Put a clean turban on his head.'  So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by." - Zech 3:1 - 5
A couple of items to note in this passage:  Satan stands and accuses you of your sins.  He points out how filthy they are, how hypocritical you must be to sin in light of your "supposed" salvation.  He points out your filthy rags, your lack of standing before Him, and the futility of trusting in Him.  Who tells Satan to shut his pie hole?  The Lord Himself!  It is not Joshua standing up and quoting scripture and "standing on the promises of God."  The Lord fights this battle and says in essence, "I have saved this man, He is mine and I have snatched him from living under the condemnation of your accusations, Satan."  Secondly, our Father won't leave us at a mere silenced enemy, He clothes us with rich garments and takes away our sin.  Third, I don't see any response from Joshua in here.  I may be reaching to say that it had nothing to do with his intellectual assent or spiritual confirmation of the forgiveness of his sins, but it certainly appears to be one sided in the provision of forgiveness and silencing of the enemy.  Fourth, although there is certainly no mention of anything going on within Joshua's mind or spirit, I would point out that post-event, it matters not whether Joshua was worthy of any of the gifts the Lord poured out on him.  Satan could certainly revisit Joshua and try to remind him of how unworthy he was, anything to take some of the victory away.  Furthermore, since it is the Lord who forgave the sin, since it is the Lord's good and pleasing will to offer that forgiveness and nothing can oppose His will, Satan's lies do not change the reality of the forgiveness, it can only taint our enjoyment of it.  Fight then against demeaning His forgiveness by focusing on how bad you are and instead use that energy to point to the awesome love of your Heavenly Father who has overcome all!

I take you to Zechariah to lay the ground work for why we have 1 John.  The accuser would have us focused on our sin and not on the love of our Father.  John wrote so that we would "know that we have come to Him," 1 John 2:3.  I find there are different kinds of "knowing."  The word "know" in this passage is how I know my wife.  It is an intimate knowledge, one that is broad in its understanding and deep in its richness.  The Greek word is ginosko (used 25 times in 1 John) which is translated elsewhere as "sexual intercourse."  What's my point?  John wants you to have a serious knowledge and apprehension of your salvation!  By comparison the word "know" in verse 11, "he does not know where he is going" is the Greek word eido which refers to perceptions of the senses, something that can be seen or observed.  You can see the difference between the two.

All of that is well and good, but the question still remains, "How do I know that I'm saved?"  Fortunately John gives us a number of different tests to use as evidence of our salvation.  We'll get into those next time.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word.  If in my attempt to word-smith an answer that makes sense I went to opinion versus Your word, please point that out and drive us back to You as the sole source for answers and assurance.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is it fatalism?

More questions have come up since we've started our discussion on free will.  One of them goes something like this:  if God has ordained all that comes to pass, then what's the point?  Why do I even worry about the choices I make?  There are a couple of surface answers that point us to why we do what we do.  One of them is that He told us to do it.  The "it" can be obedience (Ex 12:24), good works (Eph 2:10), prayer (Phl 4:6), etc.  This answer looks very much like the "because I told you so" answer I give to my children when I don't really have a great reason behind why I want them to do something.  So while it is a legitimate answer (His not mine) I've got to tell you it doesn't give me a great deal of intellectual satisfaction.
Let me for a minute highlight some of the characteristics of fatalism.  First of all fatalism is impersonal with no grand design other than the assuredness of future events regardless of my actions.  There is no end achieved, no reason behind each event.  Here is how Hodge said it in 1997:
"It is objected, in the fourth place, that the doctrine of decrees amounts to the heathen doctrine of fate.  There is only one point of agreement between these doctrines.  They both assume absolute certainty in the sequence of all events.  They differ, however, not only as to the ground of that certainty, the nature of the influence by which it is secured and the ends therein contemplated, but also in their natural effects on the reason and conscience of men." - Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 1: Systematic theology (549). Oak Harbor, WA:  Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Our "ground of certainty" is in the eternal purposes of God (Ps 33:10, 11Jer 32:18, 19Jer 51:29).  The "nature of influence" is the ongoing story of God's interaction with mankind, in calling us to Himself, in His condescension to speak with us in a language we understand.  The "natural effects on the reason and conscience of men" are the following:  we have a purpose, we have been called to execute a plan, we are not accidents.  I'm sure there are others that you can come up with and I would encourage you to take some time to think about what it would be like if in fact we were ruled by fate and not our loving Father.

I don't want to shy away from the logistics of the question, i.e. if He is sovereign how do I maintain my agency and free will, however I want to point out something behind the question, or at least what I feel is behind the question.  I know with my children, especially when we come to an impasse on a particular subject, there is a sense on their part of fatalism.  Said another way, "Daddy, no matter what I say you're going to do what you want to do."  For my children they do not have the assurance that what I want them to do is what is best for them.  In all honesty there are times when I pull the "daddy card" and have them do what I want just because it is more convenient for me, i.e. go outside and play so its quiet inside.  What I hear in that statement is "I don't matter.  It's all about you and what you want.  I'm not important."  For my children, by virtue of their subjection to a fallen dad, that is at times probably true.  I hate it, but that's the truth.

Is that the way it is with our Father?  Is that why we ask the fatalism versus sovereignty question?  We are made in His image (Gen 1:26, 27).  A part of that image is ruler; He gave us this world over which to rule until we handed that job over to the enemy in Genesis 3.  Rulers typically make judgments, pass decrees, and are basically "in charge."  Satan didn't take kindly to the idea that he was going to be subject to the Ultimate Authority and said "I will be like God" (Isa 14:8-14).  As we're all aware that hasn't gone over to well with the Lord and it hasn't been, nor will it be, a great plan on Satan's part either.  He's already been defeated (John 19:30).

As an image bearer we are not Him, but a reflection of Him.  We are the moon and He is the sun.  He is the image and we are the mirror.  We operate in our "highest and best use" when we most closely reflect His image, His character.  I'm starting down a rabbit trail here, but I'm trying to make the following point:  Executing His will is that for which you were designed!  That is why, questions of free will aside for just a moment, you are most content, most joyful, and most satisfied when you are in the middle of His will, not yours.  You are the airplane designed to fly through air, not in the ocean.  You are the train designed to run on the tracks, not on the ground.  You are the submarine designed to explore the seas, not to verify the accuracy of MapQuest directions!

Satan would have you bound by questions of "how does this all work, how I can I be free to act if He knows what I'm going to do, if He's already planned what I'll do?"  Satan would have you resent Him for His control.  My brothers and sisters, take the time to resent Him if you wish, but I am telling you from experience it is a waste of time.  It is not a waste of time merely because it is futile to oppose an omnipotent God. It is a waste of time because it is futile to oppose my loving Father whose will is better than mine!  To be blunt, your will stinks when compared to His.  My will is tainted, fallen, broken and filled with pride.  His is perfect, holy, immutable, unchangeable, divine.  Of the two wills to follow, which will you choose?

Father, if I've in any way misrepresented You or Your word, please forgive me.  By Your Spirit please convict our hearts, speak to us through Your word, and lead us in Your ways.  I love you, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More on grief

Today is better than yesterday.  Anna and I stayed up last night talking and trying to wrap our minds around the "why" again, only this time it was "why, when although we knew them we didn't know them really well, would there be such a profound sense of loss and pain?"  On top of that, what do we do with it?  For me it reminds me of sympathy pains when my wife gave birth to our children.  My stomach would sort of turn and cramp when I'd see her going through her contractions, but I certainly didn't experience it with her.  So for me I've had sympathy pains this past week and a half, sensing the loss not only of what was but what could have been.

For those that have lost a spouse or a parent I would imagine the sense of loss goes beyond sympathy to empathy.  They deal with not only the pain their friend suffers but they are reminded of the pain they went through and, to some extent, feel again.  They do not "merely" observe the others pain, they feel it in a way only a co-sufferer could.

I struggle with my own pain.  Nothing that has happened recently happened directly to me, yet I feel the need for comfort.  I was sitting in both the services praying, "Dear Lord, please take the pain away and replace it with your peace and comfort", and at the same time condemning myself for my selfishness; this wasn't about me, it was about them!  God, in His grace, brought to mind the following from Matthew 5:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
The mourning referenced here is not "mere" sadness over events and circumstances which cause pain.  It is in response to two things:  1.  my poverty of spirit caused by sin, and 2.  the impact of sin around me.  Said another way, my response to the recognition of my poverty is mourning as there is nothing I can do in and of myself to improve my position.  I stand before a holy God with nothing to offer on my behalf or in my stead to pay the price of breaking His law.  What other response is there?  When I see the effects of the fall around me I also respond in mourning, if not for their direct impact on me, then for their impact on someone else.  And that's where I've been for about two weeks now, mourning for how the fall is hurting people I know.

But my God does not leave me there, He promises to comfort me whether the pain is mine or vicarious.  I can tell you today that I am better as I focus not on the storm, but on Him, His character.
"I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'  The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. "
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (La 3:17–26). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
 One other point that I want to make about grief and I'll move on.  In neither service did I hear anything remotely like, "Don't cry; he wouldn't want you to be sad and cry for him."  I can't tell you how grateful I was that instead we heard, "You grieve now.  You do what you need to do to walk through the loss."  I can tell you that grief un-grieved turns into bitterness.  We were made to feel and because of the fall we have plenty of opportunity to feel sadness, grief, sorry, etc.  If we try to avoid it we do ourselves and others a great disservice.

Jesus wept a number of times while He was here.  I remember He wept before He raised Lazarus from the dead.  Martha didn't go up to Him and say, "Cheer up, Jesus.  Lazarus wouldn't want you to cry for him."  Jesus wept over Jerusalem during His triumphal entry!  Don't tell me that we're not supposed to mourn.  But here is the difference, we do not mourn and weep as those with no hope!  That is why we can walk through the pain because of the surety of purpose, the surety of a reason, the surety of God Himself working it together for His glory and my good.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grieve with hope

Death has touched my life differently than some people.  I remember my mother getting the call about her mother's heart attack.  I remember my brother Jeff who came home for about two weeks before going back to the hospital with a heart problem.  After that, though, I'm not aware of death really touching my life again until I was in junior high and we got a call about my dog Herman dying in North Carolina.

I'm sure this is not the same commentary on death that my parents would give.  I remember the sobs as my mom heard the news of her mother's death.  As Jeff was not my son I can never really understand just how grievous the wound must have been for both my parents when he died.  At five years old I knew something was wrong, but my parents never failed to make sure that I was loved in spite of their pain, that they grieved when they could but took care of me so that I didn't unnecessarily miss their presence.

Here is where it gets a bit different.  My parents came to know the Lord because of my brother's death; first my mom and then my dad through her supernatural love.  If you ever have the chance to sit down with them and have them tell their story you'll be blessed by it.  The Father started with "mere" salvation and has wrought a miracle through my parents in the lives they've touched, not the least of which is a heritage of belief and salvation in their grandchildren.  The Father has touched people as far west as St. Louis, MO and as far south as Naples, FL here in the states.  God touched lives in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and India through my dad's jobs and my mother's faithfulness.  It started with Jeff.

The Lord has been incredibly gracious to me by allowing me the opportunity to see the purpose behind a loved one's death.  There are many areas in my life where the question "why" goes unanswered and I can't imagine a more painful and difficult unanswered "why" than that of a loved one's death.  All of this comes to mind as I don't have the "why" answered yet in two recent deaths.  I went to one funeral yesterday and I will take my family to the second one later this morning.  Both men were married, one had three children, and they were both younger than I.  One came to Rome to head up a Christian youth organization, while the other had a "come to Jesus" meeting with Jesus about three years ago and was noted for his desire to make sure everyone he met knew about his Savior.  Why, in the prime of life and doing His work, was now the time for them to go home?  Why are wives, parents, friends, children all left behind to live through the pain of their absence?

I have two brothers whose deaths gave me life.  Jeff got my parents' attention and Jesus saved them.  My parents got my attention and Jesus saved me.  My wife and I got our children's attention and Jesus saved them.  What I have to be careful about is the desire to alleviate pain (read that as avoid or not have to experience) to the exclusion of dealing with reality.  Said another way, I have the expectation, where it comes from I don't know, that I can wrap my mind around a legitimate reason for the pain such that I don't have to hurt.  It doesn't work that way today and it didn't work that way for Jesus.

I've got to tell you though, my heart is heavy and has been for the past few days.  CaringBridge was the source of one announcement and a text to my wife told of the second death.  Each of them came as a physical blow to me.  I felt the darkness press in, weighing me down, and making the simple act of breathing more difficult.  I wanted to hold Anna, find my children and hug them.  Honestly, I didn't want to take the time to find a "why" that would let Him off the hook for taking those two men.  When I hurt I lash out, just ask Anna.  She sits through my venomous tirades at her until I exhaust myself and we both realize its that I hurt, not that I'm angry.  I do the same thing with Him; I call Him all kind of names, rant and rave about the fairness of His will.  I hurt.

It never dawns on me until later, once my initial fight/flight calms down, that I don't want to fight Him and there is no where I can go away from His presence.  In His graciousness He sits through my upset at Him until I get to the point of hurt not anger.  When I get to the hurt He comes alongside and says, "I know."  He points me to the garden when He was betrayed.  Come to think of it, He was betrayed in two gardens.  He reminds me of the blind man that was born that way not because his parents sinned but so that He would bring glory to Himself through healing the man.  He walks that all the way up through history until He says, "Your brother Jeff is with me so that your parents would be ready for My call on their lives.  You'll be here one day because you heard the word from your parents.  My Son is here with Me getting His army ready to come back in power and judgment.  I think you're really going to like either riding with Him or rising to meet Him."

We got back from the second funeral a little while ago.  I'm still heavy, but lighter.  I'm still sad, but less sad.  I hurt, but I know from where the hurt comes; it's the pain caused by the effects of sin, not an unkind, unloving God who enjoys watching me squirm.  I've seen a wife stand singing and lift her hands in praise to the Savior who is holding her husband's hand.  I've heard a wife stand firm on the truth of God's character in the midst of her pain.  I haven't lost my spouse, surely their example of pointing to the cross can turn my gaze to Him.  Surely their faith and trust in their Father can strengthen mine.  For today I'll love Him as He is, not as my pain and the enemy would want me to see Him.  Today I'll live by faith because of who He is.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jennifer Beard's comments on Easter

I read Jennifer's entry about this past Easter and how tough it was with loved ones dying.  I said the following on her blog:

We were in Chattanooga for Easter and went to church with my mother-in-law. The pastor gave an illustration at the end of the sermon that I believe speaks to the "missing but not gone forever" that I see in your writing.

He talked about a nice restaurant in Orlando to which they'd received a gift certificate. It was one of those place where they put your napkin in your lap. His wife got up to go to the powder room and the waiter, after she was up and gone, folded the napkin in some kind of fancy pattern and put it at her place.

There is a tradition, some places online I've found it referred to specifically as a Jewish tradition, about how the master of a household would use his napkin to tell the servants if he was done with the meal. If he got up, wiped his mouth, cleaned his beard, then wadded up the napkin and threw it on the table, he was done with the meal and not returning. The servants were then free to clean up the table without interrupting him.

If, however, the master wiped his mouth and beard the folded the napkin and placed it on the table, he was saying to the servants, "I'll be back."

John 20:6,7 "Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen."

Jesus threw away the burial linen because He was done with death, yet He folded the burial cloth because He was coming back. We'll she Mike, Shane, and Allie after we get there or He comes back.