Faith and Loss

I met with a dear friend yesterday who recently lost his wife to the effects of cancer. His sorrow and despair were so deep that they could be described as palpable – so intense as to be felt or touched. After three months, he is going through the worst phase of grieving where the realization of your loss is apparent in every aspect of life. He misses their companionship, he misses their connection, and he misses her presence. Nothing can be said or done to console him in his grief. He is a man of faith, a man whose heart is as big as anyone I have ever met, but a man whose heart is so badly damaged by his loss that he cannot see a path to recovery. His faith in God is not gone, but he has unanswered  questions about why this happened whose answers not be apparent to him for years – or ever in this lifetime. He never lost faith that God would deliver his wife from her disease – not even on the day of her death. As a result, he was not prepared for her to leave him.

Last night, I awoke several times and each time I was thinking of my meeting with my friend. The song Whispering Pines by The Band kept running through my head. It is a song whose lyrics, though powerful, are less impacting than the songs ambiance. Its haunting melody and soulful vocals combine with the profound lyrics to create a mood that brings the understanding of loss and despair to a level that can be felt as well as perceived. It also holds out a measure of hope that can be understood by the strength of Richard Manual’s vocals. I listened to the song this morning and once again felt the power that music can bring to a situation – even one as desperate as this one.

One lyric seemed to especially relate to my friends loss:

Foghorn through the night, calling out to sea
Protect my only light, ’cause she once belonged to me
Let the waves rush in, let the seagulls cry
For if I live again, these hopes will never die
I can feel you standing there
But I don’t see you anywhere

I hearkened back to my conversation with my friend where he repeatedly talked about the fact that although he knew he would see her again in heaven, the thought he could no longer see her in this life was overwhelming.

We all struggle with questions as to why tragic events occur in the life of the faithful believer while others whose faith is not apparent to us experience miraculous recoveries from devastating circumstances. There are so many honest, faith based answers to this question, but to the one experiencing the loss, they may seem empty for a time. I have no doubt that over time, my friend will be consoled by our Lord, and will be able to recapture the joy he once felt in the knowledge of His grace, but for now his grief prevents him from feeling this joy. Having experienced heart numbing loss in my lifetime, I know that God is faithful to help us through these circumstances when we are able to open our hearts to His love. I know my friend will once again feel the joy of God’s love, but in the interim, he suffers in solitude.

 

 

 

 

 

Losing The Truth

We are often not aware of exactly when it happened. We live our lives believing that under any circumstance or situation that some things are undeniably true and cannot be changed or modified. It then occurs that someone begins to redefine or question the validity of that truth. It is not widely accepted at first, and then suddenly, or so it seems, it is riding on a wave of popular opinion that carries it into the place where what you always believed to be true is no longer accepted as truth. Although it may take years, maybe decades, for something like this to happen, the rush at the end of the change makes it seem like you were hit by a hurricane. At this point, you have two options: 1) Go along with the tide and accept the new truth, or 2) Cling to your belief that what you have always known to be true is still true.  Option 2 is obviously the choice that will result in you being called “old fashioned”, “behind the times”, or worse.

Progressive politicians are fond of saying things like, ” We can’t go back to the social beliefs of the ’60’s” or other similar statements that cause their followers to believe that a return to prior truths are a step backwards. C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” . Similarly, if  the new truth is markedly wrong, then returning to the old truth is the only valid response. As more and more people blindly accept the new truth, however, the harder it becomes to return to what we know is true. None of us wants to look the fool in a society that is unaccepting of tradition in lieu of “progress”

As Christians, our Truth is defined by our belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and in what scriptures reveal to us as God’s word. Man cannot redefine the truth that God declares, nor can society force us to accept a new truth. As such, our position in society becomes less and less influential. Does this mean that we are now irrelevant or that we should remove ourselves from everyday events? As the Apostle Paul would say, “Certainly not!” As society continues to distance itself from God’s word, it is incumbent upon us to become more relevant and more involved in everyday events. We must continue to live by God’s word, and proclaim the truth whenever and wherever we can. If the church shrinks in light of new “truth” then God’s voice shrinks along with it. God will not allow that to happen. True believers are those who respond to God’s calling and represent Him in this fallen world. Since the church is represented by many parts (1 Corinthians 12), then each individual within the church must represent God in the way that they are called to do so. Some will do so as great orators or writers, while others will do so more quietly yet just as effectively. All will respond in a way that will represent their place in the body of Christ.

As Christians, we also understand the genesis of redefined truth. The sworn enemy of God is also known as the father of lies. In John 8:44, Jesus spoke to the pharisees and said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it”. Satan copies every good and holy device of God and turns it into something unholy and evil. When Jesus created the church, satan mimicked Him and created many “churches”, each one a mockery of the one true church. The answer to Christ is the anti-Christ. There are numerous examples of satan’s attempts to mock and mimic God. Some are present in today’s headlines.

Philosophers have sought to define truth for as long as there have been philosophers. From Socrates, Plato,  Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Rene Descartes to modern day philosophers such as Hilary Putnam, they have wrestled with ways to define truth.Theories such as relativism, correspondence theory, coherence theory, etc. have occupied the time of philosophers throughout history. For the Christian, their efforts were nothing more than wasted time since the absolute Truth has been made apparent to all through God’s workings. In Romans 1:20 the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…..”

Let us continue to preach, teach, and share the Word of God to all who will listen, and continue to proclaim the Truth to a broken world.

I want to be like…

It is not uncommon in the Christian community to hear the lament, “If only I could be like Christ.” or the stated goal, “I want to be like Christ.” This certainly seems like a noble goal, and seems like something we should all, as Christians, strive for. Unfortunately, it is, in reality, not only unachievable but also self serving and, in my mind, not at all what God’s intent is for us. I even wonder if saying that we want to be like Christ isn’t offensive to God. Please, indulge me, as I attempt to explain my thinking.

In Isaiah 14:14b, Satan is rebuked by God for saying, “I will be like the Most High.”  Because attempting to be like God, in this case,  is to mimic Him and attempt to replace Him in the hearts of men. In other words, Satan attempts to replace God as our deity. Now, before you accuse me of attempting to demonize well meaning Christian believers, I realize that whenever a believer states his desire to be like Christ he is not meaning that he wants to replace Him in the hearts of other believers. Even so, it would still only be possible for said believer to mimic Christ rather than to actually be like Him. Now, much good can be done if a person mimics Christ in his daily life. This, however, will not bring praise to God, but to the mimic. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 that performing good deeds in our own name will accomplish nothing for us no matter who it is that we mimic. Paul says that we must have agape – love or charity – in order for our efforts to be meaningful. It is my belief that this means that we must have – possess – Christ in our lives i.e. I substitute the name Jesus for the word agape. Try it: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not (Jesus), it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3.

So, what is the distinction here? How does having Jesus in us differ from being like Jesus? In my mind it is not just semantics, but rather the difference in doing things God’s way versus doing things our way. It is Spirit vs. flesh. Allowing Christ to work in us and through us is what we do when we when we have Christ in us – it is a work of the Spirit. Doing the work ourselves because we want to mimic Christ is a work of the flesh. Though the outcome may appear to be the same, the benefit we receive is not, nor is God glorified in the same way.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”. I want to believe that as a Christian my actions, when faithful, are the actions of Christ and not my own. If I set aside my flesh to allow Christ to work through me, I will be acting according to the desires of God. John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease” and I can think of no better way to describe what we must do to accomplish God’s work in the world. Allowing His presence in our lives to show through us is the utmost way to honor Him. If we were ever to accomplish the goal of “being like Christ”, would it not give us the right to brag about our own accomplishments? However, if we  allow Christ to work through us can we not brag about the wonders of our God. Did Gideon take on God-like powers to defeat the Midianites or did God do a great work through him?

Remember the Gatorade advertising campaign, Be Like Mike? Did you ever believe that drinking a bottle of Gatorade would allow you to dunk a basketball over 7 foot behemoths? I never did. I could do what Mike did only in limited ways. If Mike could have inhabited my body maybe he could have done more through me than I could do myself, but I could never have mimicked his moves around the basket on my own. In the same way, when we allow the holy spirit into our lives through profession of faith in Christ, He can do more through us than we could ever do on our own. In every situation, we need to put aside the flesh and allow the Spirit to work through us and bring Jesus to the forefront. We don’t need WWJD bracelets, we need Jesus in us, in every way, in every situation. Oh how wonderful to be able to declare as Paul did that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. This should be the desire of every Christian.

Memorial Day

Today is a day set aside to remember and honor our nations fallen soldiers. There are none counted so noble as those who have laid down their lives for the cause of freedom and the religious rights of there fellow citizens. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” It is a well understood principle that a person willing to give their life for the protection and well being of others is a hero.

As I ponder these things, I am reminded that my own family is one that has traditionally served our country in military service. I am named after a Civil War General, Joe Shelby, who was a great, great uncle of mine. Both of my grandfathers served in WW I, my father was a veteran of WW II, my brother and I served during the Vietnam era, and my son is currently serving in Germany as part of the Signal Corps. No one in my family has perished during their time of service thanks to the mercy shown to us by God.

Loss of life while serving in combat is something that we as Christians can relate to on a very personal basis. It was in battle that our savior gave His life for us. No, it was not on a traditional battlefield, but in the midst of the greatest battle known to man – the spiritual battle for our souls. He died so that we might live. It was his sacrifice that gives us hope.

As we honor our fallen soldiers today, and remember the sacrifice made by so many true heroes, let’s not forget to honor our God. So many of our soldiers are driven to duty not only by national patriotism, but also by a belief in God. Those who believe in life after death given by the grace of God can truly serve without regard to physical threat.

May God bless the families of all those whom we honor today, and may there be peace in knowing that their service will always be appreciated and for the believers that their place in heaven is secure. There is no way to relieve the pain of loss for those we hold dear, but knowing that we will see them again is no small consolation.

It’s a Rainy Day

Rainy days often bring a melancholy mood that just won’t seem to go away until the sun appears through the clouds. Today is one of those days. It has been raining for several days now and the rain gauge is reporting just under 4 inches so far. There is a flash flood warning for our area that is in effect until late this evening. Not everyone has fully recovered from the floods of 2013, so this much rainfall is very frightening for many people. The sun will bring welcome relief for many, but we don’t expect to see it for at least three more days.

There is a saying, “Into each life some rain must fall”. It actually comes from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day, and is a reminder of the dark and dreary days we must endure in life. The final stanza of the poem goes like this:

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;

Thy fate is the common fate of all,

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.

 While we know that there is always hope for a brighter future, the waiting is sometimes unbearable. I have some dear friends, a married couple, who are going through a dark and dreary time in their lives that make these cloudy and rainy days of little concern. She is in the midst of a battle with pancreatic cancer and was hospitalized this week as a result of a seizure. The cancer has metastasized and there was concern that she had developed brain tumors. Thankfully, testing did not disclose any tumors but she is still undergoing tests to determine what caused the seizures. Standard treatments are no longer an option for her as her cancer has progressed to a point where extraordinary measures are necessary. How silly and trifling it would sound to repeat Wadsworth’s refrain to these lovely people at this time. And yet, wasn’t it for times like these that it was intended?

It is at times like these that God’s promises become so much more important than the words of a famous poet. Quite honestly, I cannot conjure up the right words to speak to my friends. I know that my reminder of God’s promises will fall far short of the promises themselves. I want to encourage my friends, but find that the most encouraging thing I can do right now is pray for them and hope for the best. Thankfully, they are people who love the Lord and trust in Him. I know, for a fact, that they have laid up treasures in heaven that neither moth nor rust can destroy and that if this disease continues to progress as it has, that when she meets her Lord, she will be received with open arms.

As the poem reminds us, Thy fate is the common fate of all, and we know that eventually we will all come to a time when we face our ultimate fate in this life. There is no escaping that final chapter of our lives, but for those whose time comes prematurely, it is especially difficult. I will continue to pray for my friends, as I would want others to pray for me: Lord, have mercies on my friends. Take away their suffering and heal her if that is your desire. Make her an example of your merciful healing powers so that she can testify mightily to your goodness. If she is coming to You soon, make her suffering mild. In all things, may your will be done.

AMEN

Know Peace (No Peace Pt. 3)

We have seen the peril in trusting Mother Nature with our lives. Immortality is non-existent and there is no security in our legacy. Although nature enthusiasts mourn the fact that evolution eventually led to the existence of Homo Sapiens, there is solace to be found in a relationship with the Father. In the Father’s paradigm, humans are the supreme creation and all of the rest of nature was created for man’s pleasure. Even though man has, at times, abused nature, the natural world is there as a resource for our existence. Our Father – we call him God, Abba, YWHW, Yahweh, or Jehovah – is full of grace and is willing to forgive our trespasses beyond what is reasonable. Why, then, is He not universally accepted and worshipped by all? Why is it that if I leapt out at someone on Pearl Street and asked, “ Do you have a minute for Father God?” I would be met with disdain or malice? If you accept that our Father is the creator of the universe and everything in it, you don’t need a billion years or a process no one truly understands to explain our existence. Why is the book of Genesis more difficult to accept than abiogenesis? Why? Could it be the acceptance of a Father in heaven demands that we have reverence for Him over ourselves? In the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Christ, tells us, commands us, to love the Father and to love others as we love ourselves. There is no need for a commandment to love ourselves; we are quite good at that! Rather than loving, worshiping, and obsessing over the Father’s creation, we would need to apply those actions to the Father Himself. Well, some people have trouble placing anything or anyone above himself or herself especially some invisible deity that they believe they have no need for. The problem, of course, is that believing that Mother Nature is supreme brings no peace, only anxiety. To truly know peace, we have to trust that a benevolent being is sovereign and in control of our destinies. If there is no Father, then there is no heaven. Mother Nature only provides cold hard ground for our remains, while Father God provides streets paved with gold. With Father God, it is our inner being, our soul, that matters, not the external remains that rot and become worm food. Nature is a creation; Father God is the creator. I believe that finding peace in our Father is far superior than seeking to please Mother Nature. Having an open heart to God is more fulfilling than any natural experience known to man. It only takes an ounce of faith for an eternity of joy and peace!!

No Peace (Pt 2)

OK, so what’s my point? My point is that if Mother Nature or Mother Earth is your mom it implies that “she” has produced you. Typically this means that you believe that you were produced through the evolutionary process whereby things from the earth like rocks, dirt, minerals, water, etc. somehow came together and through some process no one fully understands produced a life form. Through billions of years of evolving circumstances that life form became what is now you. Therefor, the earth or nature is what birthed you, so you call her Mother Nature. I get that. What follows then is that when you eventually die (yes, it happens to everyone) you will be buried, wormed out, and become one with nature again. There is no real hope for anything other than that since that is basically how nature works. And since that is the way nature works, it follows that your life now is all that matters and you must live it in a way that serves some sort of purpose, otherwise you are just wasting time. The only way to immortality is through offspring (unreliable) and/or a legacy (also unreliable, but we will discuss that later). If you rely on a legacy, one way would be to get involved with Green Peace or some other organization bent on saving the planet, the whales, or some other endangered species. There are two ways to be involved with organizations like that, 1) Illegally board whaling ships in the Bering Straits, or 2) Stand in the street and jump out at passers by to get them to join your efforts by asking if they have a few minutes for Mother Nature. Now, you may be the ambitious sort, and are planning to leave a legacy by finding a cure for cancer or the common cold or something else that plagues mankind. Good luck on that. But before you commit yourself to any of these life choices let me pass some thoughts along to you. First and foremost, Mother Nature is a very harsh mother, if you know what I mean. She throws hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and a lot of other nasty things in our way without pause to consider how it might affect us. (Note: Yes, I know, human involvement has been blamed for the worsening of these things over the years, but that wouldn’t matter if Mother Nature was really in control. Man, in the eyes of many nature lovers, is the only mistake Mother Nature has ever made. I will talk about that in my next post). In addition, Mother Nature cannot protect herself against things like asteroids and straying planets. So, imagine this: You find a cure for cancer and become instantly rich and famous with a secure legacy…..and then you die. You will be eulogized and loved throughout history….until the biggest asteroid ever seen plows into the planet and destroys every living creature. Whoops! All your efforts were for naught (see how unreliable legacy is?). Your best hope now is to become part of a stew of liquid hydrocarbons that create an oil field for the new inhabitants of the planet who will come along in a billion years or so. Thanks for nothing Mother Nature/Earth, whatever you are calling yourself these days. Now, in my next post I will tell you how much better off you would have been had you trusted in your Father instead of Mother Nature.