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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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
Read previous post: Hurricane Harvey: The challenge for every Texan. If you wish to subscribe to this blog, please sign-up here. Every time I post something new, you will receive an email.
In last week’s post about fatherhood, I described a father’s gain – the treasure formed and refined in the fires of pain and loss. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so before reading this post. Click here to read it.
This week, the story continues.
Jamon Horne, Jacob Steele and me circa 2000 in Austin, Texas.
In the months leading up to my friend Jamon’s passing, Pastor Horne and his son had grown closer than ever before. Jamon’s mother will tell you that his dad never left his side. He was with Jamon day and night – loving, serving and shepherding his boy. He was walking with him, leading him in faith knowing full well the final destination. Jamon’s mother knew why her husband was not asleep in the bed with her at night. There was a burning fire of refinement bonding a father and his sick boy. The heat of this trial was forming and fashioning a priceless treasure of fatherhood.
Pastor Horne asked me to speak at Jamon’s funeral. I felt inadequate for the role. However, I realized it was a privilege to speak about my friend, encourage others and share my faith. Furthermore, I believed Jamon wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How does a man stand before his dead friend’s family and say anything worthwhile or meaningful?
How does a man stand before the teenage son of a friend and comfort him? I could barely look at him in the eye without crying.
At the funeral service, I was seated on a stage among a group of fine seasoned pastors. While their words were comforting and powerful, I found strength and encouragement in the silent and solemn acts of my friend’s father. I witnessed one of the most heroic, humbling and powerful scenes of my life.
Finally, the moment arrived when Jamon’s casket had to be closed forever. His parents arose to their feet. Pastor Horne left the side of his wife, accompanied by a friend, and slowly approached his son’s casket with streams of tears running down his face. Trembling but not shaken, the good pastor stood above his son. His face was set like flint. Pastor Horne had made up his mind to remain firm and resolute in what he was about.
A father’s final act of heroic love for his son.
The sanctuary of the church of a couple hundred family and friends fell silent. It was a holy moment. Pastor Horne reached Jamon’s casket and his friend patted him on the shoulder and walked away leaving Pastor John Horne alone with his son. He gently placed his hand upon Jamon’s lifeless chest and folded the casket dressings inside. Then, he raised his trembling arm to close the cover. This was the same arm that had held Jamon as a baby. The same arm that helped him up when he fell as a child. The arm of discipline and love. The same arm that hugged Jamon on Thanksgiving. Pastor Horne wept and trembled but, he wasn’t crushed by the tremendous weight of grief. His faith held him there.
God was right there and everyone could feel His presence.
I don’t know how long Pastor Horne stood over his son. But, he finally closed his eyes as he slowly closed the cover of the casket. And watching him walk away seemed like turning the final page of a great novel or hearing the fading notes of a sweet song. He returned to his wife’s side and held her head to his heart and sang a beautiful hymn. A man humbled yet full of pain, courage and faith beheld his Heavenly Father’s gain.
A father’s gain
I recognized this gain. I knew this treasure as streams of my memories flowed back to when I was with my dying father. He lay at home in the hospital bed provided by hospice – breathing slowly with eyes half open. My father’s mischievous blue-green eyes gazed at me as if he wanted to say something but he was unable to speak or move. We had progressed beyond words and the light was fading.
As I remember back, I couldn’t recall the last time I ate or slept. It seemed that being there was enough for me. God was there sustaining me. With a trembling hand, I would moisten a cotton swab and wet dad’s lips. In the fading embers of my father’s eyes, I saw my father’s gain – a priceless treasure. Deep in those eyes, I caught a glimmer of joy.
Our story continues in the fires of this life.
Fatherhood ain’t easy. Being a son ain’t so easy either.
Sons will become fathers someday. As we experience fatherhood, we must understand there will be pain, distance and fire. However, treasure will be found if we can look beyond the blinding smoke and heat of trials. Something beautiful is being formed. It is our duty to search for this majestic treasure and find a father’s gain.
“When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.“
Read previous posts: Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1
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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).
Hypocrisy is defined as; “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense; a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude; a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.”
Often times, people equate hypocrisy to Christians. I totally agree! All Christians are hypocrites!
‘Why’ are all Christians hypocrites?
The answer is pretty simple. Christians are hypocrites because (all) Christians are humans and (all) humans are hypocrites (see Romans 3:23). To put a Christian in a separate category of humans is a category error (error in logic). I hear people say, “the church is full of hypocrites.” That is absolutely true. You’ll get no argument from me. I also hear people say, “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!” I could not agree more. That is also true.
Here is the deal. An honest assessment of ourselves reveals our own hypocrisy regardless of religion, race, gender, age or ethnicity. Every human being is hypocritical to some extent. We all have claimed something virtuous or high-minded about ourselves that we know is not true.
Hypocrisy is a human problem.
So, what is the antidote to hypocrisy?
Some would automatically say, “integrity is the antidote to hypocrisy!” I can’t completely disagree. However, it is impossible for a human to possess 100% integrity 100% of the time. You will break the speed limit, roll through a stop sign, forget to say ‘thank you’, fail to pay your taxes with 100% accuracy, forget to return a call or email, exaggerate a story, forget a birthday or anniversary, feign humility, not tell the whole story (wife asks ‘do you like my dress?’ and you say ‘Why yes dear!’ when you don’t like her dress), fail to come through on a promise, decide not to workout, sleep through an alarm clock, think unkind thoughts about someone but you’re nice to their face, show up late to a meeting, fudge on your diet, etc. I would be a hypocrite if I claimed I NEVER did any of those things ever.
The antidote to hypocrisy is transparency
If we accept the fact that we cannot have 100% integrity 100% of the time, we are not surrendering. We are actually admitting what is true for everyone. Integrity is something we strive for in life. That is a good thing. Transparency is the the admission that “I’m not perfect because I will say things that do not match my actions.”
If I’m willing to be open and honest about my hypocrisy by being transparent, it will be extremely difficult for me to hoist the charge of hypocrisy against someone else.
Let’s be intentionally transparent with one another and encourage each other to be open and honest. Let’s hold each other accountable understanding that we are all going to be hypocrites to some extent. That does not excuse it. It is just an honest admission of what is. Try being transparent when hypocrisy raises its ugly head. See how people around you respond to your transparency.
Do you ever make a commitment to do something and don’t follow through?
Last week a good friend left town for a week with his family. I volunteered to check on their house and feed their fish. I didn’t have to volunteer but I did anyway to make my friend feel good about me. Essentially, I was trying to make myself look good in his eyes by appearing ‘helpful’. The days passed and I didn’t check on their house or feed the fish. Fortunately, the fish didn’t starve to death and his little children didn’t come home from Thanksgiving vacation to Mr. Fish floating belly up. That would have devastated the toddlers.
I had to admit to my good friend what I hadn’t done for him and his family. He forgave me (Thankfully). This may not seem like a big deal but it is because it reveals a larger problem.
It’s interesting how God can gently bring conviction into a heart. Over the last few days, I have had this growing sense of God’s gentle prompting of something I’m NOT doing.
As each day has passed, my attention has been moved toward an area of struggle in my life. It is something I have suffered my whole life. It is self-induced and I must take responsibility for what I am not doing.
Two days ago, an uncomfortable reality about my own nature was crystalized in my mind and my heart grew heavy.
I AM UNRELIABLE
I make promises and commitments I will not keep to people I care about and depend on me to follow through on my word.
This is a very unsettling situation for someone who ‘prides’ themselves on personal integrity. The key word is ‘pride’. I have made huge moral and relational blunders in my past. However, by God’s grace, I have made strides toward personal integrity and living a life that honors God.
My pride has blinded me to the fact that I am completely unreliable. When I don’t fulfill a commitment or keep a promise, that makes me a liar. I must own that fact. This is an integrity issue of monumental proportions! However, it is not ‘who’ I am. I can change. I feel I must change. But I can’t be relied upon to change myself or pull myself up by my proverbial ‘bootstraps.’ Because, remember I am unreliable.
What the heck do I do when I don’t do what I commit to do?
First, I have to admit my problem. I must admit it not only to myself but to others as well. Second, I must admit my need from help. Since, I’m unreliable, I can’t help myself. I must rely on someone else for help. That brings me to the next thing. I must ask the Lord to empower me to become reliable. After all, He is reliable. Next, I must make good on my current commitments and ask for forgiveness from those I’ve let down. Finally, I must ask my spouse and friends to help me and hold me accountable to my commitments.
Do you have any unfulfilled commitments?
Do you have any unkept promises?
Make a list right now. Pray and ask God for help. Enlist a couple close friends or family to hold you accountable.