Friday, June 23, 2017

10 years ago, my Emma died

Don’t you love that God is not bound by time?  Don’t you love that the One Who created time in the very beginning controls it and is not bound by what He spoke into existence?  Don’t you love that He inhabits eternity, both past and present, that He is simultaneously the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end?  Don’t you love that God’s omnipresence extends beyond physical geography to include time itself? And, honestly, don’t you love that this blows your mind?!

I do.  I hang on that truth. 

Yet.  Today, because I am bound by time, I have marked its passage.  I have counted 3,650 days.  Today is a decade, a full 10 years, since my Emma died.  A full 10 years that she has gazed on the face of Jesus.  A full 10 years that she has sung His praise with the angels.  A full 10 years she has beheld His glory.  Of course, this means it is also a full 10 years since I have seen her sweet small face, 10 years that my arms have ached to hold her, and 10 years that my heart feels stifling pain over the loss of not watching her grow up in front of me.

Yet, to my God, these days that I have painstakingly counted, have been a blink.  “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.” (Ps. 90:4)  And, “…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) For Him, though He knows how many days, minutes, and seconds since my sweet E’s heart stopped beating, He is as present in both that moment and this moment and also the future moment when I stand in His presence and see Him face to face…and when I see my girl in her restored, healthy body.  His name is Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is There.  He is where?  Yes, exactly…He’s there.

Weird post for a decade of my heartache?  I agree.  It kind of is.  But I have always found theology comforting.  God is just so big and His ways are so much higher than mine.  I find the more He blows my mind, the more my thoughts and emotions fall into check.  And, well, this is just where I’m standing today. 

I’m standing in the fact that prior to Emma’s death, God was there; He had prepared us.  We walked through storms where He taught us to seek Him, to listen, to wait for His timing, for His word, for His direction.  He taught us to lay ourselves out before Him, so He could show us His might and His deliverance and His provision.  So that day, 10 years ago, when the only thing He said to me as Josh sped me to the hospital, was, “Jane, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I am with you,” I knew that if my girl would die, He would be there.

I’m standing in the fact that after Emma went home, God was there.  In my life I have never known such tangible peace, grace, and mercy like He gave in that season of raw grief.  But it was so perfect because it was Him.  “He Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:14)  Certainly He is our peace with God, the One who bridged the chasm so we could know the Father and be given a restored relationship with Him, and He is also the ever-present peace in our lives whose grace is sufficient for every circumstance and situation.  He covered us when we had to choose Emma’s burial plot and the flowers for her casket.  He carried us when we sat, still stunned, at her funeral.  He gave us a song of praise.  He brought joy in spite of great pain.  He was there.

On anniversaries, I think it’s normal to look back on the passage of time and remember all the moments, all the milestones.  And on this anniversary of our great pain, I’m standing in the glorious fact, that from her death til today, He has been there.  To be honest, Charles Dickens probably summed up this decade of our lives better than I could, when he said “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  This season has been a season of big life changes for us.  We buried a child, and welcomed 3 more.  We almost lost our home due to huge and sudden financial problems, yet we bought and sold a home that for us represented a restoration of financial stability.  We have given our lives to serve vocationally in the church, yet we have dealt with brothers and sisters who have wounded us where we have served.  We have moved our family 7 times in as many years, 2 of which took us halfway across the country, never allowing us to have a true “hometown”, yet our horizons are expanded, we have heart-connects with people across the country, and this world isn’t our true home anyway.  We have been betrayed by ministry friends, yet we have been loved by more than one church family and we have learned how to forgive in the absence of apology.  We have seen our children give their lives to Christ, and yet there are days that we still want to pull our parenting hair out.  The point is, at no place in all the way has He left us.  In every piece of the journey, in every path of righteousness He is led us down, He has been there, showing us His glory and His character and His specific, detailed love for us.

And.  He is here.  Now.  And for the next decade, which, by the way, will see my oldest daughter finish her freshman year of college, my middle child graduate high school, and my youngest begin driving, He will be there.  He already is.

So then, I can rest in Him through every day of the past, through every day of my present, and for every tomorrow that comes in the future because He is there.  He will not change.  His goodness will remain.  And because I’m His kid, He will forever be working out the circumstances of my life in this fallen world, bringing them about for my good and His glory.  “I would have despaired [about a gazillion times in the last 10 years] unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 27:13-14)

So, on this day 10 years ago, Emma saw Jesus face to face.  And though my physical eyes can’t see Him today, I choose to join her with the eyes of my heart, mind, and anything else I can pull together to focus on Him, to see His constancy, His dependability.  I will rest my soul at His feet, where my daughter is already bodily sitting, leaning into His goodness, knowing that whatever surprises me, will not surprise Him, because He is already there and already has it worked together for my good.  And though 10 years feels like more than a day to me, yet I will live with eternity in view because He has set it in my heart (Ecc. 3:11), and I will look forward to the day, I join my daughter in His glorious presence.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A New Reformation

You know how sometimes you hear something and you just can’t get it out of your mind? The other day, I had one of those moments. I was having a conversation with my parents who had just returned from a preaching conference in Florida.  They were filling me in on some of the details and topics, and my dad summed up his takeaways in a couple of statements, one of which has stuck in my head.  It was a call for a new reformation in the Church.  And as uncomfortable as that makes me, I find that my spirit screams, “AMEN!”

This year, we Protestants celebrate the 500th anniversary since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the Catholic church, thus sparking the Reformation.  And truth be told, much of Luther’s heart boiled down to the authority, centrality, and importance of Scripture.  He believed God’s Word should be available to the common man (in his or her language) and refuted the common teaching that salvation was earned by good deeds or absolution paid for by indulgences (which really only served to fund a good ole church building campaign).  Churches and believers across the world today, have in some way or another felt the effect and still influential impact of Luther’s “95 Theses”.  Which is awesome.  Really.

But that’s just it.  Though we today have more access to the Word of God than perhaps any generation that has gone before us, we seem to be the least interested people in Scripture at all.  And when I say, “we”, I mean us, the church people, the Christians.  And I don’t intend that to be a particularly antagonistic statement.  I realize that there are individuals among us who are hungering and thirsting for God’s Word, basking in its depth, applying its life-altering truth, but I think it bears our honest observation and admission that by and large, those individuals are not the common majority of those who call themselves believers.

And to further state my point here, I think we have, at this time, a generation of believers who instead of going straight to the Word for spiritual nourishment or for sound doctrine or theology, or even comfort and peace and answers, go straight to sappy, watered down, emotionally driven devotionals, which, in an attempt to be fair, I will say, do serve a purpose…much like how a Twinkie serves a purpose for someone who is hungry.

For years now, both in my growing up years as a pastor’s kid and my adult years as a pastor’s wife, I have heard people say that when they read the Bible, they just don’t understand it.  Now, admittedly, I do not have the gift of mercy and I don’t intend to sound harsh, but that simply causes me to wonder, how long did you try?  How long did you sit at His feet with that Scripture?  How many days did you go back to it and reread it and reread it?  Did you ask the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Teacher, to reveal it to you? Did you meditate on it?  Did you actually try before you quit?  And if you have resigned yourself that God’s Word is unknowable for you in your reading straight from it, how is it that you have become ok with that?  Why is that acceptable to you?  Where is the verse that says, “Blessed are those who read and don’t understand, for they shall be satisfied with Twinkies”?

I fear we have become a people who are so accustomed to things being quick and easy in our modern lives of dishwashers and microwaves and washing machines and the Internet, that we have applied that concept of modernity to our spiritual lives as well.  And, as a shattering result, we, the Church (as a whole) are biblically illiterate and lazy.  And we sit in our well-upholstered pews (or super cool chairs) and criticize people’s clothes, the songs, the sermon, the programming, etc.  But, seriously, who cares?  Isn’t Christianity far more than décor and music and clothes?  In our absence of biblical knowledge, we have lost the substance.  How have we become comfortable reducing the glorious nature of the gospel to temporal fluff?  Is that really what Jesus died for? 

Emphatically, I say no.  No.  Christ died to redeem the lost.  To restore the broken relationship between the holy, righteous, just, glorious God and a sinful, filthy, broken, fallen humankind.  And because of His sacrifice, we can now have fellowship with the Almighty God…and with fellow sinners redeemed by the Lamb.  Through Christ, we are now welcomed to approach the throne of grace in confidence (Heb. 4:16).  Through Christ, we are empowered and emboldened to walk in a manner worthy of His calling on our lives (Eph. 4:1).  Through Christ, we gain victory (Rom. 8:37).  Through Christ, we cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).  Through Christ.  Through Christ.  There is no element of this Christian life that does not hold the person of Christ as paramount.

And that is the message of Scripture.  Jesus.  He is the message.  He is the good news.  From cover to cover and on every single page, it’s Jesus. 

And, perhaps, you are thinking that I’m overreacting and that this central Christian message is clear and is known among believers.  I’ll agree, it is known (by believers), but by and large, it’s not lived out.  I fear and observe that many of my brothers and sisters who have trusted the atoning work of Christ for their salvation, now live as though God has given them some sort of cosmic pat on the behind to go out and live on their own, working toward some ambiguous or self-defined level of morality through their own efforts and that their version of what is right or what should (or should not) be done is, in fact, the best and only way.  And they come on Sunday because they think they should, since that’s what their momma told them to do.  And they relax to a few songs, some which they love to sing because they like the style and some which they refuse to sing because they don’t like the style.  And they listen to the sermon, hoping it gives them a warm, fuzzy feeling, and that in 30 minutes they will be fed enough of the Word to last them a week or sustain them while they “eat Twinkies” til next Sunday.  And they put money in the offering plate so that now they have paid their dues.  And they go home.  And they spend the next 6 days working to live up to their self-determined moral requirements, which can be adjusted temporarily due to the pressing need to sin (i.e. Judy Sue has just got to know what happened to Thelma Jane; or they stub their toe and words fly, etc.).  And that is their Christian life. 
You know why they do that?  Because they aren’t discipled.  Know why they aren’t discipled?  It’s because today’s church is full of other undiscipled believers who aren’t mature enough to disciple anybody due to their own lack of biblical knowledge.  And half of them refuse to put in the time to get discipled, even when they know they need it, because they’ll have to cut something else of massive, critical importance out of their lives…like football or something.  And that cost is just too great.  (I told you I don’t have the gift of mercy.)

And tragically, the church itself perpetuates this behavior, both by some leadership and some laymen.  But, y’all, American churches are bleeding out.  And instead of repenting and seeking God’s face and pouring over His Word to know His will and be rejuvenated and recharged by His healing balm, we rely on flashy gimmicks and popular programs and religious quippy clichés to assuage our community in order to, in the words of one of our deacons at a former church, “get butts in the seats”.  Frankly, it’s no wonder American churches are losing ground and are becoming more and more ineffective.  We’ve stopped preaching the Word…and I’m not necessarily talking about pastors, though I realize there are some cowards in the pulpits of America…I’m really talking about members.  And worse yet, we’ve stopped even reading the Word…and we’re ok with it.  Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (Jn. 12:32)  Now He said that to indicate how He would die, but isn’t that just the whole gist of our message?  The whole gist of the Bible itself?  It’s not about laboring for butts in the pews, it’s about proclaiming Christ Who is the good news!  And we do that through His Word.

D. L. Moody once said, “It’s the Word of God that saves and not our comments on it.”  So right, Mr. Moody.  Folks, we’ve got to be honest about what’s going on and even more open to see our part in it. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)  We need adequate, equipped believers, who will go out, teaching others, who then become adequate, equipped believers, who will go out, teaching others, and so on and so on.  The only indispensible and foundational tool given to us for discipleship is God’s Word.  That’s what He gave us because that alone is God-breathed, sourced in Him, which of course makes it profitable to us.  It is sufficient and capable of more than we often give it credit for.  “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) 

It is for comfort and revival.  It lights our path.  It brings us understanding.  It protects us from sin.  It is a treasure.  It is the theme of our very song.  I could go on, but I’ll let the psalmist (inspired by God) say a few words instead!

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me.” (Ps. 119:50)

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105)  “You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.” (Ps. 119:114)

“Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” (Ps. 119:116)

“The unfolding of Your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Ps. 119:130

“Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.” (Ps. 119:133)

“I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil.” (Ps. 119:162)

“Let my tongue sing of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteous.” (Ps. 119:172)

Do you see why my spirit cries for a new Reformation, a new season in the life of the Church where we once again take hold of the precious gift of the Word and embrace it and devour it as insatiable children longing to know their Father more, longing to know their purpose in life, longing to know how to cope with life’s troubles, longing to yield to His strength, longing to walk in the light of what pleases Him, longing to be equipped, longing to be unashamed, accurately handling the Word?

Oh may we be a people who refuse to play religious games and instead commit to walk by faith, believing God and taking Him at His Word.  May we remember God’s Words through Paul that whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:22-23) and that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  May we embrace repentance.  May we desire sanctification. May we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7).  And may we actually read the Bible, readily asking God for clarity in the things we don’t understand. 

For a really practical step here, if you’re looking to grow more in your knowledge of the Word, check into joining a Bible study going on at your church.  If there’s not one, I would happily recommend any of Precept Ministries books in the Lord series.  (I’m not getting a thing for recommending these.  They’re just good.)  These are called devotional studies, but they are in no way sappy, watered down, or emotionally driven.  They will most definitely keep you in the Word.  There is also some great explanation and application all throughout if you are looking for that. If you don’t want any book in hand besides the Word itself, go for it!  If you come to things you have questions about, remember, nobody ever has ALL the answers.  God’s just too big for us to break Him down and digest Him and His truth in its entirety.  But if after prayerful and diligent work to study it out using the whole counsel of God you still have some questions, ask somebody.  If you don’t know somebody, ask me.  I’ll do anything I can to help you.  If this is your method, perhaps start with 5 Psalms per day…or less if you have questions.  Studying the Word is never about quantity…it’s all about the quality!

I can’t help but believe that when God’s people get serious about seeking Him, little by little, a true Reformation, a true revival will break forth in our national churches, which will impact not only our homeland, but also the world with the good news of Jesus.

(I do want to make a quick disclaimer here.  I have certainly not written this blog post with any individual, any specific church, or even any specific denomination in mind.  These statements have been made based on years and years worth of personal observation, which I suppose started when I began attending church…which would be 9 months before I was born.  My heart here has been to speak my perspective and opinions with a raw honesty, desiring to see God glorified through His people.)