Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

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.

It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human.

[Originally posted on December 14, 2016]

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

Read previous post: Local Outreach: Philosophy of Ministry Part 1.

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Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

Not quite a year had passed since my dad died (April 3, 2016) when I received a call from a close friend in tears. He was on his way to see our friend Jamon. Jamon was in the final moments of his battle with cancer.

Fatherhood ain’t easy

As with many father-son relationships, there can be seasons of distance and contention. I experienced it in my relationship with my father. But, what is so interesting about terminal illness and dying is that the pain and suffering clear away the trivialities of life. The fire of trial and pain strip away the coldness of wills and egos.

When you are in the crucible, there is no way of understanding gain as there is no way of experiencing rising when falling. The goldsmith dare not attempt to snatch up the gold while it’s in its liquid form. He must wait. In the fire of trials, we must wait.

Priceless treasure can be found when the fire dies down and the fog of grief dissipates. I think it is our duty to discover the gain. Where is it? What does it look like? What does it mean?

Later that night as I was working in my home office, I received a call that Jamon was gone. Jamon died on March 6th, 2017 at the age of 44. Although time and distance separated us, he was my friend. I began to weep. All I could do was weep – weep for the loss, weep for Jamon’s teenage son who was going to be graduating from high school soon, weep for his parents, weep over the memories… weep over the laughter and good times we shared.

That is when I discovered a priceless treasure formed when my father passed away. As I was grieving the loss of Jamon, my son Nelson (7yrs old) quietly entered my office. He gently placed his little hand on my shoulder. Nelson recognized the tears of his father. He had seen the tears before and he was ready and willing to step into my pain.

Nelson looked me strait in the eye and said, “I am sorry about your friend Jamon dying.” He put his arms around me and held me like I hold him when he’s fallen and hurting. I hope that I hold him like he was holding me and would do well to aspire to his example.

I cried on my 7 year old son’s shoulder for a few moments. Then, Nelson backed away to look at me again and put his hand on my arm. He said, “In times like this we should pray.” So, we prayed. Then Nelson said the most profound statement. Remember, he is 7 years old.  He said, “Dad, when someone dies, instead of being sad, we can remember them and rejoice.”

“Dad, when someone dies, instead of being sad, we can remember them and rejoice.”

I was presented with a priceless treasure in fatherhood that had been refined and purified for more than a year in the fire of my dad’s death. I had received a father’s gain.

This is not the end of the story. Here is a link to Part Two…

Read previous posts: Are you a person of peace?

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A devotional for the day – June 16, 2016

A devotional for the day – June 16, 2016

The devotional below was distilled from Psalm 148:1 and Proverbs 16.

You alone are worthy of praise. I commit my work to you today, Lord, that my plans will be established. May my ways be pleasing to you, so that my enemies will be at peace with me. As my heart plans my way today, Lord please establish my steps.

I prefer your wisdom over wealth. Guide my path toward righteousness and away from evil. May I guard my words and path to preserve my life and witness.

Guard me from pride that leads to destruction. I trust in you alone Lord and humbly ask for blessing. I know that apart from your grace, I am dead. Amen

For those called into Gospel Ministry:
You received The Call to serve the Lord in ministry. That Call came from the same voice who called Abram (Abraham) our of the Ur of the Chaldeans. This is the same voice who Called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, the Prophets, the Twelve Apostles and Paul. It is the same voice. What a blessing and honor….. What a fearful privilege and responsibility.

Called into His glorious Light!

The Sun Darkening at Noon – Perspective on Good Friday

In the darkness His hand awaits and His voice is heard, “Ye sinner, ye heavy ladened… come to me and I will give ye rest.”

“The sun darkening at noon is a fit accompaniment of the death of Jesus. Is it not?”

– C.H. Spurgeon 1896 (Three Hours of Darkness)

As Easter approaches and the Christian community celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe it is equally important to reflect on his crucifixion – His atoning sacrifice for our sin.  Every Good Friday, I attempt to explore the agony of the Cross of Christ. It is a wonder beyond comprehension. Read of it in the Gospels and you’ll find your heart pierced. Below are thoughts stirred by Charles Spurgeon as he brings three hours of darkness into focus. I link to the sermon below.  I encourage you to read it and reflect this week.

Veiled in darkness a “cosmic transaction” occurred. Mockers and murderers groped in the absence of light. Work and celebration were halted by a heavenly shadow. Concealed in a veil sin and death paid for in three holy hours no eye could see.  A price was paid.

Nothing provokes the devil like the Cross.” We can expect clouds of darkness to gather anywhere the Cross of Christ is made known to hide it from the eye’s of the sinner.

Christ is the light of the world. You will live and die in darkness unless you reach for Him.
In the darkness His hand awaits and His voice is heard, “Ye sinner, ye heavy ladened… come to me and I will give ye rest. I will make my home in you and bring light into the dark windows of your soul. Once home, I will never leave you. My spirit will never depart. I live, so shall you live.”

Finally, I’ll finish with a poem by William Cowper.

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

Will­iam Cow­per

Read Charles Spurgeon’s ‘The Hours of Darkness’ sermon here…

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Why aren’t you serving?

Why aren’t you serving?

This message is for those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; aka believers, Christ-followers, (authentic Christians), those who make up the body of Christ, the Church.

If you are not in this group, what I’m going to say does not apply to you. By all means, continue reading as you may find what I have to say interesting, who knows? This message is for those who call themselves ‘Christians’.

Moving on.

There are two kinds of Christians.

The first kind are those who are sold out for the cause of Christ. These folks are yielded to the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives and are committed to putting their faith into action. Their lives are marked by obedience, love and sacrifice. They see this life and the world around them through the lens of eternity. The Lord has done such a work in their lives that they can’t help but serve others. These people have a hunger to help others and share the hope they have in Christ. Their fruitfulness manifests itself in a variety of ways.

What these first kind of Christians have in common is their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and their faith in His atoning sacrifice translates into other-centered actions. Whether it is feeding the homeless, providing a home for an orphan or visiting prisoners or widows, these Christians go to where the need is and meet it. This kind of Christian lives out their theology. You can see it. Their faith is active, vibrant and fruitful. Be encouraged!

The second kind of Christians are those who are self-focused. They go to church every Sunday. They participate in Bible studies. They can discuss theology on the highest levels. This group is quite adept at feeding themselves and talking about what is on the menu. Their lives are marked by routines of religious activity based on personal desires, preferences and convenience.

For this second group, the message of the Gospel is intellectually understood and (possibly) accepted in the heart. However, the Gospel has not made it to their hands and feet. The result, is they don’t feel the need to serve others. When a need arises, they squash it with excuses like, “I’m not called to that.” or “I’m not equipped to do that.” or a dozen other excuses. Slowly but surely, the embers of their faith die and the radical transformation of Christ in their life becomes a distant memory. Before long, people around them don’t even know they are a Christian except when they see them leaving for Church on Sunday morning. Be challenged!

One of the marks of a healthy spiritual life is serving others. It is like breathing in that it comes naturally.

I’ll boil it down for you Christian. If you are not serving, there is something wrong with your walk with God.

Before you run out there and overcommit out of compulsion or guilt. Have a discussion with God first. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what is wrong in your heart. If you need to ask forgiveness or repent, do it. Then, get up and walk!

Our lives are to reflect the life of Christ. Read your Bible and discover again what Christ did. He served the father with obedience. In Jesus’s march to the cross, He did many things along the way. He met people in their moment of need with love and compassion. Ultimately, he served our biggest need. He saved us from our sin (John 3:16).

Back to the question. Why we serve or don’t serve is directly related to what we believe.

Does your faith manifest itself in action? If not, why not?

The blessing is not in the knowing…. the blessing is in the doing.
The spiritually maturing Christian engages in service in doing so he/she will participate in the blessing while bringing glory to God. In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. When he is done serving them, he says; “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17 ESV).

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Read Philippians 2:1-11. From the pen of Paul, we see a model of Christlikeness, “…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…”

James 2 points out that faith and works (service) are two sides of the same coin. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

What about you?