But God.

Pastor Todd delivered a message on Father’s Day that was centered around 2 women, one older and one just 12 years of age.  I have always loved this passage of scripture – these two daughters who encounter their Messiah when all seems lost.  I love watching Jesus, “Holiness on the move,” as he enters without hesitation into their utter unclean state of blood (for one) and death (the other).

Words came to mind as I watched Jesus with these two women, words spoken more than 30 years earlier by Jesus’s uncle Zechariah on the day his son John the Baptist was born.  He was prophesying about his son, the one who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah.  Nestled in his prophesy are these beautiful words that launch like an arrow forward into this story of the bleeding woman and the dead daughter of Jairus.  They are words describing Jesus:

“…because of the tender mercy of our God,

whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

These two daughters of the Most High sat in darkness in every possible way.  Our first woman lived in the darkness of shame, of physical, emotional and spiritual exclusion, in the darkness of financial ruin, isolation, desperation, cut off in every way from fellowship with others and with God.  Our young 12-year-old girl was literally gripped by the darkness of death, her parents sliding into the shadow of it, fear and grief and horror having settled into their home.

BUT GOD.

Because of His tender mercy, our Father sent his Son to rise over them, to literally and physically visit them and drive out the darkness.

John 1:4 tells us that

In him (in Jesus!) is life, and the life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

What an astounding truth.

Wrap this around our story and see with new eyes.  As the crowd pressed around Jesus, they were pressing around the Light of the World who had come to push back the darkness.  As the woman pushed in and grabbed his cloak just for an instant, she was grabbing at the garment of the One who stretched out the heavens and whose words called “Let there be LIGHT!”

Wrap this around the scene of Jesus as he entered a house of death, where his greatest enemy had come to steal, kill and destroy, where darkness had claimed this little girl.    But then JESUS stepped through the door.  I wanted to weep when Todd described Jesus as he raised her from the dead with the same effort as a parent waking a child from a nap.  “Child, arise” or in the same quiet voice that we would use for sleeping child, “Honey, wake up.”

This is the Light of the world, the Sunrise visiting his people from on high.  We never hear of these 2 people again.  We don’t know their names or what became of their lives.  We don’t know if the bleeding woman returned to a family, or if the young girl grew to marry and wake her own children from naps.  What we know is that they were changed in an instant on that day in a way that is far more profound that the miracles of their healed and restored bodies.  Those bodies would age and grow dim again, they would once again fall into the shadow of death.  But they are alive today – more alive that we can grasp – and the sun never sets on them.  He is always before them in full view.

Revelation 21:23

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, the light of the world came to rise on us.  The day is coming when we will see him as he is.  Maranatha.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Why Weddings Move Us

I’ve had the opportunity to either attend or participate in five weddings since March. The last one was my daughter’s wedding which I both walked her down the isle and officiated the ceremony. What a joy filled time weddings are. They bring out emotions and feelings that we sometimes don’t feel at any other occasion. There is a particular kind of joy at a wedding. Have you ever noticed or thought about that?  We are touched and moved deeply when we observe a bride and groom’s joy expressed throughout the ceremony and the reception. We are sometimes moved to tears at different points throughout the experience. Why is that?

It’s because weddings express, reveal and mean more than just a man and woman making a lifelong commitment to one another, as important, beautiful and sacred as that is. The Apostle Paul gave us a hint of that in Ephesians 5, when, after his teaching about the roles of the wife and husband, he referred to a man leaving his father and mother to be joined to his wife as a mystery. He goes on to say that what he really is talking about and has in mind is Christ and the Church. Ah, there is a spiritual reality involved! Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that

God has made everything beautiful in its time. And also, he has set eternity in their heart . . .”

God has graced us with the beauty of marriage, but He wants us to see more. He wants us to think long term and with eternity in mind! He wants us to see with spiritual eyes. God, in common grace, which believers and unbelievers alike experience, is SHOUTING to the world, “this is how much I love you”. This is what I did in sending my one and only Son to earth.

Christ gave His life for His bride. Christ suffered and died a horrible death for His bride. Christ came to earth to rescue His bride, those who had rebelled and because of their sin died and became separated from God. Christ loves us perfectly. Christ loves us tenderly and yet disciplines us when necessary. Christ leads, guides and directs us, just as the groom leads the marriage dance. Christ, out of extraordinary love and joy, smiles upon His bride. Oh, there is so much that God is revealing at weddings! God is speaking! God wants to get our attention at these events. But are we listening and noticing?

In His grace, God reveals Himself and His love for His bride the church at weddings. It’s His picture of how much He loves His people. This is why being part of a local church is so important. Every local church is a smaller expression of the larger universal church of which we are part if we are in Christ. Christ is the head of the church. The New Testament epistles were, in part, given to instruct, guide, rebuke at times and direct believers in their relationship to the local church. Tim Keller, in his fantastic book, The Meaning of Marriage, quotes commentator G.W. Knight about Ephesians 5 saying,

“Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage, He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of the great purposes of marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever.”

So, the next time you go to a wedding know that those emotions, feelings and all that you experience are the grace of God revealing and expressing His great love for you and His desire for you to be part of His family called the church.

The Dark Night of the Soul

In Aaron’s most recent sermon in the “Sing” series, he spoke from Psalm 88 which recounts the despair of a man in desperate spiritual loneliness and emotional pain. I’ve experienced that dark place, and Sunday’s message rekindled my emotions from that unenviable season of life.

In the final weeks of our cancer journey, Rob said on more than one occasion: “The valley of the shadow of death is lined with demons whose sole purpose is to taunt, accuse, harass, and exploit the emotions of those who are walking through that perilous vale.” He shared in one of his final sermons that he had spent one night in spiritual agony fighting the battle of doubting the reality of his own salvation. The mental torment was excruciating, but in the wake of that battle, morning brought with it a new perseverance and steadfastness of heart that only God could give.

My own dark night of the soul came on the last day of hospice in our home. For all of that week, I had not been able to sleep for more than an hour at a time. Rob’s pain had become intense and constant in spite of our every attempt to minimize it, and pacing around the house hour after hour became his only recourse. Because he was also experiencing mental confusion, I was afraid that he may wander out of the house, so I was regularly in a state of hypervigilance. Extreme sleep-deprivation and physical and emotional exhaustion can dismantle spiritual health and perspective. There was also the wear and tear of our years of cancer treatment and set-backs, and it was almost inevitable that I would fall prey to the despair depicted by the Psalmist.

On the morning of our last day in hospice at our home, my weariness was absolute. I have never known such despair. Added to that was the confusion of why God would allow me to get to such a point of utter hopelessness. I couldn’t sense God’s presence; I could no longer even cry out to Him. I felt that life and hope had been sucked out of me and pain poured in to fill the emptiness. It was Psalm 88 – a condition in which I thought I would never find myself. I truly felt that God had disappeared, and that was the greatest pain of all. I had never before felt so entirely forsaken. The agony was real and relentless.

Psalm 88 is so intensely pain-filled. It’s hard to read. It was hard for me to listen to Aaron preach this message. The memories of my Psalm 88 pain were overwhelming to me. But this SONG is a gift to God’s people. Those of us who are in Christ are not exempt from desolate moments that threaten to undermine and assault our faith. God understands. Psalm 88 proves it. He didn’t have to include this psalm in His infallible Word. God gives us this lament so that we know that bleakness happens and that we can cry out to Him as the Psalmist did in the midst of His long-term and words-fail-me kind of pain.

Soon after Rob’s death, I read a poem that contains this beautiful line: “The eyes release the misery the heart would store.” In the same way, lamenting pours out our grief to God in a way that makes room for Him to move into our painful emptiness. Aaron said, “We can’t move beyond that which we do not name.” Jesus lamented in the Garden with “…loud crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). His plea to His Father that the cup be removed from Him was answered by God with the provision of a resolute steadfastness that propelled Jesus to the cross. It was there that He fulfilled His purpose to purchase for us an eternal forgiveness that brings us to God and to all the fullness of His grace that answers our every lament.

Four years ago, the outcome of my dark night of the soul was a rescue that I couldn’t have choreographed. I had no energy or emotion to devise a plan. As Aaron said, God gives us more than we can handle, because He wants to shatter every ounce of self-sufficiency that we possess. I’m so grateful that He’s committed to that work in my life and in yours.

The morning of our final day of hospice at home, Rob’s sister called to check on us. Rob talked to her first, and she could immediately sense his confusion and desperation. He handed me the phone as he continued his trek around the house, and in hearing my voice, Rob’s sister abandoned any attempt at a conversation and informed me that she “was on the way.” In the meantime, our hospice nurse called to check on us. In like manner, she heard my voice and said that she was going to arrange a room for us at Hospice Home. During that holiday weekend only one room was available, and in God’s mercy she was able to secure it. It was God’s rescue for both of us.

The weeks after Rob’s death were filled with laments. One in particular was my question to God asking why He had allowed me to get to such a low point. I had never experienced such darkness and despair and God-absence, and I suppose I was hoping to assure myself that it would never happen again.

The answer came as God’s answers sometimes do, in a quiet sense of His speaking assurance to my heart. I believe He wanted me to understand that there would be dark and difficult times in my new life as a widow, but that He would always rescue me in His perfect timing.

God has a plan for the painful (but purposeful) waiting that is so often a part of our “training” as His beloved and cherished children. The heart-surgery He accomplishes is from the hand of a kind and merciful Surgeon. The cutting away of our self-sufficiency is painful, and it leaves scars, but it draws us nearer and nearer to the One in whose presence is true fullness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “The deepest knowledge of God’s presence will have been acquired in the deepest river or dungeon or lion’s den. The greatest joy will have come forth out of the greatest sorrow.” I am truly so thankful for my dark night of the soul. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a way out. God provided it when my circumstances were completely beyond my control. I look back to the fruit of those days as an altar to God in my heart. That altar was built at such a great cost, but the deepening experience of the better-than-life loving-kindness of God is eternal and priceless. I proclaim with Charles Spurgeon that “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

 

Postscript: For those of you who may presently be in a dark night of the soul, please don’t traverse that perilous vale alone. Your pain may be completely invisible to those around you. Tell someone. Tell a pastor. Tell a trusted friend. The church is God’s family for you. We have ALL had our Psalm 88 moments or days or years. You are not alone in that. Pour out your lament to God, but also share it with a brother or sister in Christ who can sing God’s song with you and for you.

 

A Lasting Message

This famous quote by Canadian philosopher Marshal McLuhan tries to put into words the important notion that how you say something is just as important as what you say.

“The medium is the message.”

In technology, how you receive a message is just as important as the message itself. For example, Facebook, the medium, has changed us more than the messages we have received from Facebook.  What I mean is that Facebook the platform, has made our world smaller, easier than ever to connect with people, and made those relationships potentially shallower.

This is an important point that we need to be aware of even in our spiritual lives and in our spiritual disciplines.

I have an iPhone and an iPad. These are enormously convenient tools of technology. On both devices I have downloaded the ESV Bible App. Having the Word of God at our fingertips, being able to scroll through the books of the Bible with ease and looking at footnotes quickly is amazingly helpful. There are some advantages to them that I am thankful to God for. But they aren’t perfect.

As a Dad and Family Pastor, I think about what these things communicate to my children.

I remember growing up there would often be times that I would wake up early. I remember walking out of our dining room, in what seemed to me at the time an unnatural hour of the morning, and there on the table opened to some Psalm would be my mom’s Bible. My mom would be reading it, sometimes humming worship music under her breath.

Or there would be times I would wake up and hear my Dad brewing a pot of coffee in the morning, only to see his Bible and journal laid out on the table.  His first and primary task of the day.

You see these memories and these examples from my parents taught me at least two things:

  1.  Reading the Word of God is important.
  2.  I should make it a part of my day, every day I can.

You see, the medium, reading from the actual Bible, left a memorable message.

Now, fast forward to our present day.

Imagine I am studying or reading the Bible from my iPhone or iPad in the morning from the kitchen table.  One of my children walks in on me.  What do they see?

They see Dad on his iPad.  They see Dad scrolling through his iPhone. What they don’t see is a man wanting to be devoted to the Word of God trying to spend his first moments of the day in the revealed grace of God.

The example might be lost if I am on my iPad. Who’s to say I didn’t check Twitter, Facebook, or looking at email? How do they know that this device that is so often used to waste our time and distract us is now being used for the study and love of God. They don’t know. I haven’t sanctified the time or the space. I have muddied the waters. You see, in the economy of the iPhone, the Bible has no more importance than any other social media app. So what example am I setting for my children? Whose to say? The holy has joined alongside the trite. In this case, it doesn’t matter what is true, but what my children perceive to be true. Is it Dad being distracted or is it Dad reading from the Bible?

It is certainly no sin to read the Bible from these smart devices. We should thank God for the access we have to His Word. But we should also from time to time be made aware that it is not just what we say and what we do, but how we say things and how we do them that also carry a message.

The medium is really the message sometimes.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Todd