Thursday, January 21, 2016

Suffering and the Presence of the Holy Spirit

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

Life-Changing Grief & The Holidays

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.