Sunday, October 30, 2016
Today is Micah’s 8th birthday. Like many grieving parents, we could try to live in the past in order to find “joy” in the memory of those brief, fleeting “happy” moments. But what hope does that bring for the future? A present hope in God, continually renewed by the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the promises of scripture, must be the sole source of our significance and hope for the future.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
In my law practice, I try to "under-promise" and "over-deliver." That is to say, I try to manage the expectations of my prospective clients to make sure he or she understands precisely what I can do, and what I cannot do. Ultimately, I want to make sure I complete those tasks we agree upon, but avoid any misunderstandings beyond those tasks. In contrast, God tells us that our expectations of Him can never be high enough. We are told in Ephesians 3 that God is "able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us..." Ephesians 3:20. Rather than attempting to minimize the significance of our earthly and temporary trials, God promises that the end result is greater than we dare imagine. None of us can escape the impact of sin; whether the premature death of a child, job or marriage loss, or poor health, all of us feel the profound grief of an unacceptable earthly existence. We were created to look for, and experience, true and lasting pleasure and significance. Rather than ending a search for lasting pleasure and significance, God tells us to switch our pursuit from whatever occupies our thoughts, now, to a pursuit of Him. Whatever we are currently enduring, He promises that He will make it worthwhile. "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you...My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips..." Psalm 63:3,5. Rather than lower our expectations in life, let's look to God to give us hope, and look to see how He will meet those high expectations.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Like Job’s friends, I think many of us have a tendency to want to give the “easy” or “Sunday school” answer to you in these difficult days. We want to simply assure you that God is in control and therefore all of this “will work together for our good.” (Take Romans 8:28 out of context). But such “pat” answers eliminate the reality of your pain—your physical pain and the relational pain it causes between you, family members and even God. We ask questions like, “What possible good could come from this?” Lord, whatever lesson you are trying to teach me, did you have to impose such a burden on me. There HAS to be a more efficient way of glorifying yourself through me and my life, considering the havoc that this is wrecking on our finances, my career, our marriage, and our family. Lord, if you are in control, why can’t you stop it? I pray that the Lord would put an end to your sufferings immediately. But if it does not, I pray that you would bear patiently under the stresses of this health, even as you wait for your “redemption” from both the physical healing you need your lack of understanding in God’s purpose in all of this. In 2 Corinthians 4:8, Paul says he is “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” I pray that you and your family would moment-by-moment bring your petitions, physical ailments, and needs before him so that, while you can quite rightly be perplexed by God’s purposes, you would not give up (“be driven to despair.”) King David could sleep soundly in the knowledge that the Lord would preserve him from the thousands who followed Absalom and wanted his very life. Likewise, I pray that you would trust in God to heal you. “Arise, Or Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” Psalm 3. May God break the teeth of your ailments. I pray that in your struggle with God over meaning and purpose, that you would come out of this current phase with an increased reliance on Him, knowing that while His ways are above and beyond our understanding, that He can accomplish great and lasting changes through us and our mortal bodies.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
In the months after Micah died, Heather and I felt ready for Jesus’ immediate return. We wanted nothing more to be Home, in Heaven, with Jesus and Micah. But as the years pass, so have the concerns of life cluttered this perspective. Jobs, career, financial and family concerns have competed in our affections for what had previously been an unopposed desire to be in Jesus’ immediate presence. In concluding the book of Revelation, Jesus tells us to be ready at any moment for his return. “And behold, I am coming soon.” Revelations 22:7. Seeing as this was written some 2,000 years ago, I used to feel (as no doubt a skeptic would) as though God has owed millions of His followers an apology. How can He be trusted if we told he is coming back "soon," and now we must wait so long? How can this return be "immediate?" In fact, I have come to believe so strongly that it is no mistake to live one’s life as if Jesus’ return is not just within our lifetime, but within the very week, the very day, the very hour. As humans, we must have affections that stir us to action. We cannot stay in neutral when it comes to living in affection. Nor can we put certain affections “on hold,” and then return to those affections at some later date. Our immediate affections will, in the absence of some extraneous force, become our long-term affections. We cannot tell ourselves that we will follow Jesus only after we complete our degree, or settle down into a career, or have children. God knows that one’s future character is intricately linked to our current one, and that our current character will dictate what type of person we will become. If emulating Christ is indeed what is best for us, and ultimately is what is most satisfying, then God’s encouragement to live as if He is returning tomorrow is indeed most loving. In the perspective of God’s history, not our current earthly timeline, a 1,000 years is like a day. In the perspective of all eternity, our lifetimes will be the duration of a vapor; indeed, the 2,000 years will be a small fraction of all human history. If God truly loves us, why would he not encourage us to avoid the frivolities of current American life, and focus on that which will be of value in eternity? I pray that Heather and I can return to this same perspective, looking in eager anticipation for turning the page on the end of this short, brief temporal existence into an eternity filled with the worship of our Lord Jesus.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
While it may be difficult to hear, those in the midst of great grief have one significant advantage over those of us who are in the midst of relative peace and security in life circumstances. Those enduring great grief have the "advantage" of holding a right understanding of our lack of self-sufficiency, and our constant need for Christ. In Luke 18, Jesus describes a widow who bombards an unrighteous judge with her petitions for justice. Eventually, the unrighteous judge gives in to her requests, not because the judge is righteous, but because the widow is persistent. If this widow was successful, how much more successful are we when the recipient of our persistent requests is a loving and righteous God? Most of us don't pray like the persistent widow because we really don't believe we need prayer that much. Our culture, and any own personal experiences of personal success, teach us that we can "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" and achieve what we set out to do. Indeed, some of us fill up our lives with tasks, and create status in our minds about ourselves so that, having formed a sense of self-righteousness about our status, believe we can look at others in self-created righteous indignation over failure to abide by our self-created, self-governed standards. Moreover, these same standards are then applied to God when God fails to abide by our self-created sense of sufficiency. For those in the midst of great grief, we must continue to pour out or requests to God. In His timing, we trust that He will answer in ways that are eternally beneficial. For those like me in periods of relative comfort, we must continually repent of our attempts at self-sufficiency, and look to move to greater and greater dependence upon God. In that dependence, we can then persist in prayer, knowing that we have a good and loving Father hearing our prayers.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
In 2 Corinthians 6:10, the Apostle Paul gives a list of seemingly contradictory attributes of Christians. He tells us that he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…” Pastor John Piper has said that Christians are, or at least ought to be, simultaneously both the saddest people on earth, as well as the most joy-filled. How can this be? Joy: Our lives are filled with joy because of Christ’s work on our behalf. We are the most joyful of people because we have the full knowledge of the plan of salvation in Christ, and revel in our own salvation by grace. Our joy is not in circumstances, but in God. “You have put more joy in my heart then they have when their grain and wine abound.” Psalm 4:7. Sorrow: Our lives are simultaneously filled with sorrow because we better understand the full weight of sin in this world. We know that all of the ramifications to sin—whether the breakdown in human relationships, sickness, loneliness, death—is not the way that the Lord intended for us to live. Author Paul Tripp says, “Death is the enemy of everything good and beautiful about life as God planned it. Death should make you morally sad and righteously angry. It is a cruel indicator that the world is broken; it is not functioning according to God’s original design.” Tripp, citing 1 Corinthians 15:25-26. The rest of the world may try to find the “silver lining” of a tough situation. The world may use modern psychotherapy to help with grief, or turn to work, drugs, or other forms of escape, in order to salve the wounds. But as Christians, we must confront sin and all its ramifications fully in the face and hate sin with all of our being. When we see death, our sorrow is greater than the rest of the world because our hatred of sin is greater than the rest of the world. We can, therefore, take this seemingly contradictory position of great sorrow and grief joy in the midst of suffering.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
One year ago today, I was recovering from an abdominal surgery that would, ultimately, cause me to spend 22 of 26 days in the hospital. I won’t soon forget the night of January 19, 2015, the night when I lay awake in my hospital bed staring at the clock, counting down the minutes until my next dose of pain killers could be administered. I would later learn that grapefruit-sized abscesses had developed behind my lungs by reason of the post-surgical bacterial infection that I had developed in the course of an earlier surgery. As I look back at my response to what God permitted to occur in my life one year ago, I am pleasantly surprised to reflect upon my own reaction to that suffering. This suffering was certainly inferior in degree to the suffering our family endured beginning in 2009 when Micah died. However, that larger suffering, and my dependence on the Holy Spirit by reason of it, has had positive results in my life. Throughout my hospital stay, I was able to maintain a focus on the Lord and His plan for my life, and generally respond with an open hand and mind to where the Lord was leading through that illness. (I blogged about my responses on this blog last winter and spring). I write about this not to boast in my own strength or moral character, but to boast in God’s character. I want to encourage you (especially if you are a fellow grieving parent), that God’s strength will be sufficient to carry you through current and future trials. Any good that comes from the lives of believers in absolute weakness is by reason of God’s strength in us, not our own. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul emphasizes that his boast is not in his own works, but in the cross. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the worlds has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14. In the cross, we see that all of our works can only get in the way of our relationship with Him, because in our absolute weakness, God is able to accomplish far more than we can do on our own. How can I boast in my own strength, when I could not even eat, and was too weak to even bath myself? Where is boasting when, but for God’s very breath in our lungs, we would have no hope of entering another day without the strength that He provides. How can I brag when I would not have the moral fortitude to respond in a Christ-like manner to those around me? While I (for one) cannot say that I “rejoice in my suffering,” I can say that I take hope in my response to it. We can be glad that spiritual fruit arising out of suffering demonstrates the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Having seen God work through my own weakness, we can rejoice in the hope of eternity, knowing that God’s presence in our lives has guaranteed our salvation. Paul says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Parents of young children (like me) know that a child will not always respond to discipline. It may be necessary to elevate the level of discipline to cause the child to understand (“wake up to”) the moral reality of his or her actions. Is it unloving for us to discipline our child in order to point them in the direction of wisdom, goodness and truth? Is it not the most loving action we can take to correct their actions or attitudes in order to set them on a course for creating a moral character that makes good and right moral decisions independent of us? In chapters 8 and 9 of the Book of Revelation, we read about certain “end times” events that do not sit well with the modern reader. We see the Lord allowing for vast and incomparable devastation to come upon the earth, removing one-third of the crops, livestock, and human beings from the face of the earth. God permits this devastation to occur in order that those humans who have not yet turned to Jesus might repent of their idolatry (Revelation 9:20-21), and make Jesus the center of their affections. Is it unloving for God to allow this devastation? If God Himself is most worthy of our affections, is it not supremely loving of God to take any means necessary to turn our affections away from ourselves and “wake up to” the only one and true object worthy of eternal worship, God Himself? There is no question that trusting in the future redemption of our significant sufferings or current calamities requires fearless faith. But if you have endured such setbacks, will you at least consider the possibility that, just like we ought to discipline our children to become lovers of good, God has (and will) discipline us in order to become lovers of God? The death of a child, like other significant means of suffering in this life, can serve as a “wake up call” from a loving God. When we lose something so close to the center of our affections, we should respond like little children, and ask how our Heavenly father wants to use this discipline for our good. We would be wasting the attention and intentions of a loving and sovereign God if we let our sufferings go to waste.
Friday, January 1, 2016
In his book, "After Lament," Glenn Pemberton encourages readers facing significant suffering or grief to enter into lament--to go deeper in a struggle with God. In marked contrast to the flavor of many Christian churches today, Pembertson points to the example of David and other Psalmists us to lament--to ask of God His purposes, to wrestle with God, and to generally cry out to Him in lament. Pemberton writes, "It is my observation that many people assume [that] [o]nce God has heard our lament and answered our prayer, the crisis is over and we may resume our lives from the point at which the crisis hit....As soon as the crisis is past we try to get on with the business of living our lives as if nothing happened." Pembertson, After Lament, p. 25. My observation is that friends and family members of grieving parents try to "fix" the grieving parents by trying to get them "back" to the normal way of life, especially at the Holidays. The first Christmas after Micah died, Heather and I made the decision we would not try to be "normal" around the Holidays. Rather than enjoying a traditional family Christmas, we took off for 7 days in Mexico. In hindsight, this was an excellent decision. In every Christmas season since his death, we have taken on a few "traditions "back," but it would be unrealistic to think that our holidays, like the rest of life, can ever be "normal" again. Nothing in life is normal after the death of a child, especially those rhythms of life associated with family and children. If you know a grieving parent, I would encourage you to not try to "fix" their problems by getting them "back" to their normal ways. God is using the most terrible circumstances imaginable to change the lives of the parents, and most likely numerous others, for His glory. Please don't think that a grieving parent needs his or her "old" way of life back in order to be happy again.