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.”
When someone says, ‘I’m a Christian’ the first thing I look for is evidence of love. Let’s talk about what we mean when we use the word ‘Love’.
‘Love’ is a blanket term describing a variety of things spanning from sexual love to commitment to pleasure in someone or something. I ‘love’ ice cream and I also ‘love’ my wife… What’s the difference?
In Greek, there are four words used to describe what we call ‘love’. I appreciate the Greek because the words are rich in meaning and contain dimensions our English word ‘love’ simply does not contain.
Love rendered in Greek… simply.
Storge means the love or affection of family (parent and children)
Philia means affection between friends or equals. Think brotherly love (Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love)
Eros means sexual or romantic love. This is where we get the word, ‘erotic.’
‘Agape’ love is the highest form of love. Agape love is a sacrificial love and is an act of the will. Meaning, this love is a choice and has a cost. This love delights in its object and is sacrificial in its essence. Let me clarify. Agape love does not mean total acceptance of acceptance of bad behavior or choices. I can love you and absolutely disagree with you at the same time.
So how do we recognize ‘agape’ love?
Look for the sacrifice. Which means humility and an act of the will will be involved. It will be an abiding affection, delight and commitment by the one expressing it. The value I place on the object of my love is directly linked to what I’m willing to sacrifice. The higher the cost, the greater the love. How can I find delight in sacrificing ourselves? Great question!
Here is the hard part of understanding ‘agape’ love. Agape love must come from outside one’s self. Other affections are self-manufactured and may have self-gratification undergirding them. Meaning that other ‘lower’ forms of love can have selfish motivations driving them. Only agape is completely SELFLESS.
The Evidence of abiding faith in Jesus Christ is love ‘in deed and in truth.”
This love is the pinnacle of love expressed as ‘agape’ love – sacrificial love.
With this love there is a cost involved.
With this love there is a choice – an act of the will.
This ‘agape’ love must come from outside ourselves.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down out lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16).
There will be a cost…. there will be a sacrifice with this love.
“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)
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 Spurgeon as he brings three hours of darkness into focus. There is a link at the end to read his sermon in its entirety.
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 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.”
Spurgeon said, “I know no greater joy than to be useful to your souls.” I can’t agree with him more.
The Bible states, God created all things. He loves that which he made.
All things are held together by the power of His Word. He keeps all things. Nothing can contain God, yet he is in and through all things.
God is Holy. This means He is separate from His created order and creation is contained in Him. God is infinite. His power and wisdom shine forth through creation.
Ultimate beauty and splendor find their source in God’s holiness.
The finite mind cannot fully comprehend that which is infinite. But, God makes provision for us by His Christ. The person of Jesus Christ is an “exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by the power of His Word.” (Heb. 1:3).
God’s provision of Grace did not stop there. God followed through with a comprehensive plan to bring unity between The Holy and the unholy. The pinnacle of this great provision was the cross of Christ. In the darkness surrounding Calvary, a cosmic transition occurred where The Holy made righteous the unrighteous by the final work of Jesus Christ. We know it was final because the last words left his lips on the cross; “It is finished.”
Christ burst forth from the grave, we behold the beauty of His Holiness. There is no beauty in death. Splendor is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3) who is eternal.
Set our hearts on that which is above, eternal and infinitely beautiful.
(Post above inspired by personal Bible study of the character of God and A.W. Tozer’s ‘Attributes of God’ and ‘Knowledge of the Holy’).
One morning several weeks ago, I met with Rabbi Bloom and the team from Compassionate Fort Worth at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. We enjoyed breakfast outside in the beautiful weather under a Sukkah (Hebrew for ‘booth’). This day began the Hebrew celebration of the Feast of Booths (See Leviticus 23:22-44)
We were given a brief history lesson about the Sukkah and why it is celebrated thousands of years later. As with most of the Hebrew feasts, the Feast of Booths is a remembrance and is rich in symbolism.
When the Jewish people made their Exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wondered in the desert for 40 years. During this time, they lived temporary dwellings called ‘booths’ for shelter (think tent with a thin screen for a roof). These booths were quite fragile and often had a thin layer of palm leaves or twigs for a roof. It was important to be able to see the sky through spaces in the roof material.
During the Exodus, the Hebrew people understood their booths offered very little in the way of protection from the elements, enemies or wild animals. They depended on God to protect and guide them. Today, Jews around the world celebrate by gathering, eating and even sleeping in their Sukkah to celebrate God’s protection and guidance.
After our meeting, the good Rabbi gave me a tour of the synagogue.
The first stop on our journey was a small quiet sanctuary. At the center was a large encasement on the wall, adorned with a beautifully carved tree. As we rolled the case apart, I beheld several scrolls. Each had a unique covering. The Rabbi ask for a hand to retrieve a large scroll and we placed it on a table.
I had the privilege to hold and learn about two significant Torah scrolls. The first scroll survived the Holocaust and WWII. The second was a 100 year old scroll from Iran. All script was perfectly justified and beautiful to look at.
When we unrolled the Holocaust scroll, we landed on Lev. 8:30 where Moses anointed Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. The Rabbi also pointed out the passage where Aaron’s sons brought foreign fire (or strange fire) into the temple. That did not turn out so well for them (God protects His Holiness). After discussing aspects of the scroll, we carefully rolled it up and returned it to its home.
Next Rabbi Bloom led me to a large sanctuary. Again, we went to the front of the room where the Torah scrolls were stored. He retrieved a scroll encased in silver with ornate artwork.
When we unrolled the 100 year old Iranian scroll, the Rabbi rolled to the 10 Commandments. I cannot read Hebrew but he showed me the 6th, ‘Thou Shall not murder.’ I happened to study the 6th Commandment that morning during my devotional time. Hebrew is a magnificent active language rich in description.
Murder is the unjust taking of innocent human life (not self-defense, just war, etc). The 6th Commandment has two sides in the Hebrew. 1. Do NOT murder and 2. DO protect and preserve human life.
Standing in the present, holding the past and knowing the eternal truth behind the Command was a lesson in theology and history. The irony of holding these two historical artifacts in light of current events was not lost on me. We replaced the scroll and finished our tour all before 10am. But that was not the end of the journey.
For several weeks, I had been wanting to set up a tent in the backyard and ‘camp out’ with the kids. It had been too hot. However, the first day of the ‘Feast of Booths’ was cool and clear. A perfect night to camp out under the stars. I remembered what I learned in the morning and found the application for my family.
Instead of our normal Bible reading and story, I took a detour and told my 6 and 4 year old kids to grab their sleeping bags. We are going to camp out tonight! Needless to say, they were excited. I was too!
Before heading to the back yard, I gathered my wife and children in the living room and read Leviticus 23:33-44. This is passage describes the ‘Feast of Booths’. I explained that we would sleep in a tent under a thin screen. We would be able to see the night sky and the celestial bodies that God flung into place. The thin tent would provide very little protection. We had to depend on God for protection this night in our own Sukkah.
I saw the Old Testament come alive that night in my children. And I remembered the God who protected and guided the ancient Hebrews is same God who protects and guides me today.
As the night grew quiet. The children wondered off to sleep murmuring about stars and galaxies. My eyes fell shut under God’s protection and eternal security of Christ as the melody of ‘How Great Thou Art’ lulled me to sleep.
Two weeks ago I attended the Global Leadership Summit and one of the co-hosts was comedian Michael Jr. He told a story about the birth of his daughter and how she was crying inconsolably in the delivery room until she heard her father’s voice. Michael Jr. shows a video of the actual event and brings forth a lesson impacting the entire summit audience. Watch and read on…
When we experience the embrace of the Savior holding us close to Himself, we hear his beating heart. We hear his quiet whisper. His still small voice says to us, “I am with you. I am right here. I love you.” That’s our Father’s voice!
All we know through revelation, theology and scripture strike a resounding chord in which our spirit affirms, “This is true!” One may argue, “this is far too mystical for modern Christianity!” I respond from Romans 8 and John 15 by stating, “The Holy Spirit testifies to what is true and testifies we are children of God.”
As this truth reverberates into the deepest inmost parts of our being, we recognize the chord struck has a nostalgic undertone of longing for something beyond ourselves. In it we sense a timeless quality just out of reach but quite familiar.
Then, from the depths of our hearts, ‘the eternal’ emerges like a wave crashing on a celestial shore. We realize again our Father “set eternity in our hearts.” Again, the Spirit testifies, “This is true!”
The ministry of the Holy Spirit astonishes my finite mind. The reality of which cannot be brushed aside with the wave of the unbelieving hand. In fact the wave of the hand affirms another Biblical truth; man is resistant to the truth and the love of God. This we can leave for another talk. Here is the real question…
Have you heard the father’s voice? Are you listening for it?