The following originated from an email I sent to my fellow team members at Christ Chapel on January 8, 2018.
Good morning team,
On December 31st, I set about my morning bible reading asking the Lord to give me a passage of scripture for the new year. Up to this point, I had been journeying through the Psalms. At eventide of 2017, my foot set upon the golden shores of Psalm 16.
As I considered the entirety of this magnificent passage, I discovered a treasure I could hold in my heart at dawn of a new year…
“In your presence there is fullness of JOY.” (Psalm 16:11)
Unbeknownst to me, Pastor Ted Kitchens would announce on Sunday that the staff’s “theme” for 2018 would be ‘JOY’!
I too thirst for Joy! We all do. It’s been tough and trying year for many of us, and the only prescription is more Joy!
As I studied Psalm 16 again today, I couldn’t help but reflect on Jesus’s words in John 15: 1-11 (the True Vine). I encourage you to set both passages side by side and ponder them. One can’t help but be awe struck by how God has woven his word together. So, I pulled a couple threads I hope will encourage your heart as we embark on our voyage this new year.
Where do we begin?
Begin with the end in mind: Joy!
“in your presence there is fullness of Joy….” – Psalm 16
“that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full (or complete).” – John 15
How do we find this ‘Joy’?
Set the Lord before and abide in Him – the Vine
“I have set the Lord always before me…” – Psalm 16
“Abide in me (Christ)….” – John 15
By intentionally yielding our will in humble obedience, we enthrone Christ in our hearts to rule and reign. In turn, we yield fruit (which brings the believer Joy to the Father’s delight!). We are running to our Father shouting, “Father, father, look! Look at this beautiful fruit that you planted in my garden!” And the delight of the Father’s smile begets Joy in the hearts of his beloved children.
Can we find Joy apart from Christ?
The answer is ‘no’.
“I have no good apart from you.” – Psalm 16
“apart from me (Christ), you can do nothing” – John 15
So, Where do we end?
End with the beginning in mind: Joy!
Everyday – “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord’… in your presence there is fullness of JOY!” (Psalm 16)
His Joy… our fullness of Joy!
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I have been keeping a journal for nearly ten years, and every year at the end of December, I have a tradition of reading through the previous year’s entries. Sometimes, I get lost in the pages of my own writings and I am swept back in time.
On the morning of February 5, 2016 I journaled a prayer for my dad’s ‘routine’ gall bladder surgery later that morning. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain.
My prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would use this trial in his life to draw him closer to you … bring him out of this a changed man.”
That morning, I was reading Psalm 36 as my devotional. The theme of this Psalm is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)
There is a huge difference between knowing the meaning of a passage in your head and understanding it in your heart.
Shortly before noon on February 5th, I entered the crucible with my family. The surgeon walked into the waiting room with a file folder in his hand. He seemed to be a bit young to be a surgeon of his caliber. But, I brushed that aside remembering that I’m older than I think. The doctor sat down next to my step-mom and began to speak. The surgery was a success and dad’s gall bladder was removed. The doctor opened the file folder. Inside it were hi-res photos. Then the words came, “Jim has cancer.”
58 days later on Saturday April 3 at 9:33 p.m., after indescribable suffering, my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Poppa was surrounded by his family when he drew his last breath of Texas air and woke up in eternity a changed man. The words of the old hymn “Finally Home” washed over me and gave me comfort.
“But just think of stepping on shore – And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand – And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air – And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory- And finding it home!”
A couple days ago, I woke up early in the morning as is my habit. I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree in the dark room where it sits in a corner, lovingly decorated by our children. On this particular morning, the lights were blurry. A wave of grief ushered in my quiet time with God as tears had blurred my sight. I did not know the tears were there until I turned on the Christmas lights.
“In your light do we see light.”
I now understood the meaning of the passage in my heart.
This holiday season, there may be an empty chair at your dinner table. You may wake up early on Christmas morning to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the one you love only to find them gone. There will be a void in life. There will be an embrace and a voice missing from the greetings and conversations. That distinct familiar laugh from the other room.
There will be blurry lights.
Therefore, take heart! It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human. Grief tells you that you have loved and been loved. It reminds you that you must truly live. Grief should point us to God as our help and comfort in this broken world. We can draw near to Him and to each other.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
In the light of God’s love, there is sufficient grace for me and you. In the midst of the storm and fog, there is a kindly light and peace to be experienced.
“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light do we see light.”
Those who grieve can help the grieving. When the lights are blurry, remember many others experiencing the same thing. Do not allow the ministry of grief to be wasted. We who grieve have the privilege to come alongside those who are grieving. We do well to acknowledge and validate the pain yet lift each other up in love. God’s kindly light shines through the fog of pain and grief. The warmth of that light is felt in a loving touch, a nod of the head or a kind word of encouragement.
I’ll leave you with my closing words from dad’s memorial service. I pray it will minister to you if you are grieving and encourage you to be sensitive if you are not.
“It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law.
“Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham
Lord, “in your light do we see light….” Even if the lights are blurry.
Originally posted December 14, 2016
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Look into the world around you. Can you feel it’s pain?
A “Harvey Hangover” is the best way to describe my experience since late August. I’ve been back to the coast 3 times. In my hometown of Fort Worth, everything looks normal. Big trees, houses and children playing in the neighborhood are daily realities. As the 24 hour news cycle pushes the conversation on, its ‘normal’ to forget a tragedy.
‘Normal’ on the Texas Coast is much different. Mighty oaks are snapped in two and uprooted, houses are torn apart, not a child is to be found playing. The image is stark and lifeless.
Last Saturday, we were preparing to feast on a fine breakfast with a group of men at a small church in Aransas Pass to fuel ourselves for the day. Our team leader saw a lone man rummaging through a forgotten pile of cloths outside the church. He called out to the stranger to join us for breakfast.
The man came into the building, shaken, weary and with tears in his eyes.
His name is David. My friend Shawn asked him what he was looking for in the clothing piles, he said, “I needed socks.” Behind the tough, worn exterior of tattoos and scars was a broken man. You could see it in his eyes. He was coming down from being high – as he was fidgety, sighing and his eyes were never fixed on one place. I could sense his anxiety, having been there myself, under the bondage of drugs, suppressing my pain. That place ain’t pretty. It is dark, hopeless and controlling.
We prayed for the food and began to eat with David. He was thankful to be here. As he relaxed, he shared his story. His wife was a heroin addict and would leave him and their children for days. She would return and the cycle would begin again with an argument. After the hurricane, he sent the children to live with grand-parents out of town. He was hopeless, hurting and the tears poured. It was apparent this man lived a hard life. At one point he had been in nursing school and working. Somewhere hope had turned to heartache.
I admit, part of my heart began to become callous toward what I saw in the disaster zone.
The ‘normal’ is destruction and need. It’s ‘normal’ to see people wondering the streets with a blank robotic stare on their faces. It is ’normal’ to see people camped outside their homes under make-shift tents. It’s ‘normal’ to see destruction everywhere you look. It’s not like a tornado disaster where you can drive a few blocks and everything is in tact. In contrast, Hurricane Harvey’s path of destruction is so extensive that you can drive 30 miles in any direction and all you can see is devastation. It can cause a heart to become callous.
A couple days ago, I was safely at home preparing to go to work and I began to weep for a few moments. I had to let it all out. Certainly God was softening my heart against the callouses that had formed on the coast. All around is so much pain, brokenness and loss. God touched me and healed a part of my heart that had been dying in indifference. My only response was thankfulness.
It’s right to bend under the burden of the pain of others. I admit to trying to fix before feeling, I understand this is the wrong response.
In God’s amazing grace, He reminds us to look into the world and feel it’s pain.
“And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion towards them…” Matthew 14:14
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There are two kinds of people in this world.
People of Peace and People of Strife.
The question we must ask ourselves is: ‘which one am I?’
Everyday, you have a choice as to which you will be.
Gut check questions:
- Are you fascinated by strife and discord?
- Do you become consumed and inflamed by conflict and violence?
- Do the pattern of your thoughts reflect a thirst for forms of entertainment that portray strife, distrust, envy, violence and conflict?
- Or, do strive and violence make you sick and sad to your core?
FW Boreham says “strife has entered into and permeated every department of life. It affects society in general. On every hand, in a million different forms- we meet rivalry, suspicion and distrust. We see class contending with class: the rich oppressing the poor; the poor breathing maledictions on the rich. Petty jealousy mars the sweetness of every friendship; it stultifies the efficiency of every organization; and, entering our very churches, it disturbs and destroys that abiding unity that should be their most conspicuous charm.” The seventh Beatitude extends an olive branch…. “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God” One does not need to be a ‘Christian’ to understand Jesus’s teaching here. The peacemaker is a lover of peace and works to preserve peace. “The sounds of strife and discord are an agony to his spirit.” says Boreham. Like a rose exhaling it’s fragrance is an involuntary expression of its nature, the peacemaker exudes a spirit of peace without even realizing.
I challenge you to work to become a peacemaker.
- Work not to offend others.
- Work on not taking offense.
- Work to extend an olive branch of peace to another (this is risky).
In order to change the climate of discourse, we must become people of peace (even when discord is the predominate noise).