Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

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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Local Outreach: Philosophy of Ministry Part 1

Local Outreach: Philosophy of Ministry Part 1

Today, I am going to share the philosophy of ministry I have the privilege of leading.

Preface: This post begins a series intended to help other church leaders understand the way we do ministry within Local Outreach at Christ Chapel Bible Church. This is not the ‘only way’ but ‘one way’ to approach ministry. I’m not stating that there is one right way to do ministry. Context is important.  You will adapt ministry to serve in your context. We’ll get into some of the theology and why I believe every church should have a robust community outreach in later posts.  I have tried many things an failed and I’ve made plenty of mistakes.  My hope is that you will see this as a starting point on a journey.

There must be a philosophy of ministry undergirding mission; in this case, community outreach.

 

A bit of background:

I’ve been on staff at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas for three and a half years. Perviously, I was doing my own thing in the wealth management and insurance industries until I received a call from the executive pastor at my church. He was convinced that I was the next Local Outreach Pastor. After three months of wrestling, one early morning God made it crystal clear, he had called into full-time ministry. That said, I continue to have a deep appreciation for business done well and the entrepreneurial spirit. I love visiting with business owners and entrepreneurs. I believe that ministry could use more business acumen and business could use more ministry acumen.

The Local Outreach Ministry (I also refer to it as ‘Local Missions’) at Christ Chapel existed for decades before I took the helm in 2014. The ministry has grown and evolved as the church has grown from a couple dozen folks to nearly 7,000 attendees, two campuses and over 1500 folks streaming every Sunday.  A solid foundation had been laid by others prior to my arrival.  I am so thankful for their work.  It is a privilege to build upon it.  I pray that I pass the baton well.

We refer to Christ Chapel as a ‘church without walls’. This means we believe we must move out of the confines of church buildings and into the surrounding community to serve and share the love of Jesus Christ.

We believe that church staff exists ‘to equip the the saints for the work of the ministry…’ (Ephesian 4:12a). My role as Local Outreach Pastor is NOT to do everything myself. My role is to equip our people and give away the ministry. Then, I get behind lay-leaders (volunteers) and support them in their work.

One person is limited to he or she can accomplish in a day alone.

But, many ministry leaders work as if everything depends on them.  This form of ministry is exhausting and prideful. Little wonder pastors suffer from burnout and leave ministry. It’s unbiblical for one man or woman to do ALL the work. At the moment Jesus called his first disciple to ‘follow me’, he began giving away the ministry. Jesus provided the New Testament model and philosophy of ministry. We are called to give it away.

I was taught at an early age to surround myself with people who are smarter and have more talent than I have. You don’t have to know everything to lead. It’s a good thing if someone else has more passion for the poor or serving children or single moms than you do. It’s a good thing if someone knows more about homelessness or prison ministry than you do! God has placed those desires in their hearts and they have gifts you don’t have.

It is the pastor’s responsibility to celebrate that passion and talent and then provide opportunities for those people to express it.

In Genesis 2:19, God delegated responsibility and limited authority to man in naming things in the created world. God has been about giving it away since the beginning.

As pastors and leaders, we are not God. So, we can’t do everything ourselves. God has always modeled giving away (or delegating) responsibility and authority. So should we.


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Unbridled Skepticism: Rebelling against everything

Unbridled Skepticism: Rebelling against everything

Unbridled skepticism undermines our thinking.  It is a revolt against knowing.

The belief that nothing can be known for certain has run amuck in modern western culture. People claim they are absolutely certain that nothing can be known for certain.

Therefore, I refer to it as ‘unbridled’.  Why do I say that?

The history of Western thought is for another day.  Sufficed to say, during the Renaissance man made himself the center of all existence, completely autonomous and jettisoned meaning.  This gave rise to humanism – which has no basis for right or wrong.  In the 20th century, Post-modern philosophy claims that there is no objective truth (relativism).

Relativism is the root of unbridled (modern) skepticism.  The presupposition of relativism is that objective truth cannot be known. This presupposition self-refutes because its an objective truth claim. In addition, it rejects any basis for knowing truth.  Therefore, truth is subjective and relative to the individual (arbitrary).  Unbridled skepticism manifests itself in contradiction, hypocrisy and ultimately futility.  It undermines itself.

Conversely, I believe healthy skepticism is essentially a search for truth in the matter of things that matter most. In fact, in Greek, skeptomai means ‘to search, to think about or look for…’ The most important endeavor in life is the search for truth. Without it, existence is meaningless and leads to futility like doubting one’s own existence.

Ravi Zacharias says that one must test a truth claim by asking two essential questions:

  • Do the facts (claims) correspond to reality?
  • Are the corresponding facts (claims) coherent? Or to put it another way, when you pull all of the corresponding facts together, do they make sense logically?

Unbridled skepticism constantly undermines itself because it’s based in relativism. Therefore, it can’t seek truth as healthy skepticism can because what the ‘unbridled’ skeptic is seeking is amorphous.

An anchor thrown into a cloud will not hold a vessel.

Unbridled skepticism rebels against knowing anything for certain.

I find G.K. Chesterton’s following statement interesting when I observe unbridled skepticism.

“All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind and the modern skeptic doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.  Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then writes another book, a novel in which he insults it himself.  As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then as a philosopher that all of life is a waste of time.  A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself.  A man denounces marriage as a lie and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie.

 

The man of this school goes first to a political meeting where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts.  Then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they practically are beasts.  In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is forever engaged in undermining his own mines.  In his book on politics he attacks men for tramping on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for tramping on men.  Therefore the modern man in revolt becomes practically useless for all purposes of revolt.  By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
– G. K. Chesterton

You may or may not agree, but it is worth considering.


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The art in the ordinary of life

The art in the ordinary of life

There is an art in the ordinary in life.

I was reflecting on Oswald Chamber’s ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ this morning and remembered something important.

Our actions and attitudes during the quiet moments of the ordinary tell quite a bit about our character and spiritual life.

We live in a culture and time when ‘you only live once’ has become the motto of daily living. As a culture, we have chosen to define quality of life on the basis of ‘epic moments’.

We’ve decided that a row of exclamation points (!!!) is more important than the preceding sentence. It is evident, some have gone so far as to stop writing sentences and strive to create meaning with only “!!!” (exclamation points).

A microwave cannot create great art.  An ‘epic moment’ cannot create a beautiful life.

A beautiful life is created and sustained by learning to live in the ordinary. Learning the art of walking in the ordinary leads to a beautiful life well lived.  Small brushstrokes on the canvas of our lives express depth, balance and richness. The broad strokes of flashing color from epic moments have no meaning without the lines, shadows and delicate detail of the ordinary backdrop.

An approaching thunderstorm’s beauty is found in the deep blues and grays of the sky. Lightening is simply an explanation point at the end of the sentence.

Read “Getting into God’s Stride” – by Oswald Chambers


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Can you look into the world and feel it’s pain?

Can you look into the world and feel it’s pain?

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


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Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 2

Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 2

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.

– Anonymous


Read previous postsFatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

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