Holiday Lament

 The worship service this past Sunday was a little different than most, but like the old Arby’s commercial sometimes “Different is good”. We were urged to remember that while most of us celebrate the holidays with family and times of good cheer, there are many among us who struggle with hardships and loss. Tracy Sanchez shared his story of personal difficulty with the loss of his father & brother preceding his diagnosis of cancer. It made us all stop to appreciate how important it is to not only laugh with those who laugh but to be engaged in the lives of our brothers & sisters and weep with those who weep, as they go through difficulties in life!
Leon’s message came from the book of Lamentations chapter 3:24 which reminded us that, “The Lord is my portion saith my soul; therefore I will hope in him”. The reality is that there are times when we all will go through grief and loss in this life but out of the grief there is HOPE. In order to find that hope we must remember not to hid the hurt & pain of life but share it with others so that they can help us find hope in God.  
The challenge is always before us to pretend that nothing is wrong and that we’ve got it all together. However, when we do this we not only make our burdens more difficult to bear but we also make it hard for our church family to come along side and share in our grief! Instead of trying to hide our hurts and pains in life we should remember that the Lord is near and wants us to cast our burdens upon him, (and sometimes the way we do that is to share what we’re going through with others). If we will do that, God will open our eyes to see that even through our grief, “His compassion fails not; they are new every morning!”    
So let’s remember this week that the holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate the blessings of family & friends but let’s not forget that for many it is also a time of great struggle. We can be a source of encouragement to others who are grieving during this time by acknowledging the hurt and pain they are going and also reminding them that God’s mercies are new every morning and in him we can always find HOPE!
John P. – 12/13/16

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Remember.

She would just be 22 years of age.

Probably graduating from college and starting a new job.

Possibly dating a young man she might marry.

Maybe talking with us about where she’s going to be for the holidays.

But that’s a different timeline that never happened.

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We have a reminder/memorial that sits on a chest of drawers that has her footprints and the words that the Lord put on our hearts shortly after we lost her.

We still think of her. Probably not as much as we did in the first few years, but there’s always that series of questions. The “What if…” questions.  The “What would she be doing now…” questions.

After we lost her, it was a crushing of our plan for life.  Graduate college, work for five years, have a baby, get a bigger house, have baby # 2, etc…

All of it came to a stop. And life was suddenly different.

It was hard to know what to do for a while.

There are other emotions that come with that; other questions, other struggles that arose out of our very short time with a baby we held for only a short time…

…but after yesterday’s time with Tracy Sanchez’ story and Leon’s message, I was reminded about how the Lord was with us through all of it.

He was with us in the number of people who loved us and surrounded us with space to breathe, food, cards, calls, time to ask questions, time off from the office, time at people’s condominium out of town so we could get away, patience with us when our emotions shifted and surprised even us.

He was with us with long runs down by the river with a good friend who is a doctor who allowed me to vent, shared medical insights, talked about where our baby was, the mystery of why it happened, etc.

He was with us in the words of authors who wrote good books on loss, grief, death.  He was with us in time spent with mentors and people who loved us and wanted to see how we were doing, months after and years after.

Never once did we ever imagine that God had left us.

Sure, we had the normal questions, concerns and frustrations with God about it all, but all those were also evidence that he was there, listening and loving and taking care of us…through his people, through strangers, through books, through ways we still don’t understand.

So yesterday was a reminder to me that in the middle of pain, God is still there.

It was a reminder for me that I may not know what you are struggling with, but I want to go ahead and give you a lot of grace, just to make sure I’m not making an already tough situation worse for you.

It reminds me of how important it is to remember when others have a loss, that they need your presence when it happens and they need to know that you remember and that you still care months and years later.

It reminds me that I need to grieve and be okay with that and that I need to let others grieve and lament and throw their frustration, anger, cares and more at the Lord. He’s a big God and can more than handle it.

It reminds me that a day will come when he will make all things new and he will wipe away all tears and explain things in a way that will make sense.

I can imagine a day in the future when me and my wife and our three kids sit down around the Lord’s table together with Bethany Sage and she shares with us what it was like to be with the Lord all this time and the joy we’ll share together for eternity with the Lord.

I am grateful for days like yesterday. For Tracy’s story.  For Leon’s words that shepherded us toward healthy grief, wholeness and reality before the Lord and each other.

I am grateful to know the Lord is with us all and will never leave us, nor forsake us.

A TIME OF LAMENTATION

​Pain, loss, frustration, grief and depression must be important in the eyes of God since so much of the Bible is given to discussion of each of these. Job may have been the first book of the Bible actually written and it is intended to demonstrate that one of the primary ways of looking at grief and loss was totally wrong. So often then and now people think that every time they go through some illness or loss in their life it must be a punishment from God. 
 One of the first questions raised in hospitals or rehabilitation centers is “Why is this happening to me?” The reasoning normally goes along the line, “I am striving to live according to God’s teaching. Why would God punish me? What sin have I committed that I wasn’t aware of?” When God evaluated Job his response was that he was the best man in that part of the world. Yet Satan convinced the Lord that Job might be doing right and serving him just because of all the ways God was taking care of him. So God allowed Satan to attack Job and his family.
​When his friends came to see about Job and saw the dire condition he was in they reasoned that he must have sinned in some horrible way for God to bring such trials upon him. When Job denied any such sin they set out to convince him of his guilt. In their mind it wasn’t reasonable for a good man to go through such so Job must not be a good man.

​When Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations somewhere close to 586 B.C. It was in response of God’s punishment of Judah and Jerusalem. The sin of the people was so great that God brought Babylon against them to utterly destroy the nation of Israel. God called Jeremiah the prophet to plead with the people before the captivity to change their ways, and serve God with their whole heart. But they refused and continued to serve idols and live immoral, ungodly lives. So God brought Nebuchadnezzar against them with his mighty army and left Jerusalem and the Nation of Judah in total ruin.

​It seems in reading Lamentation that Jeremiah had walked through the city to see all that God had determined to do to punish them for their sins and failures. His description of the city was devastating. It was in total ruin. Yet Jeremiah knew it was their sin that had brought about such ruin. Yet the pain for the loss was beyond description. He told of the walls being down, people living in total poverty, immorality and good mothers being so down that they were cooking and eating their own children.

​Whether our problems come because of sin or simply because we live in a world stained by sin, problems, devastation the pain is still horrible when we are going through the losses in life. How should we react in times of loss, hurt and grief? Too often Christians have gotten the notion that we must deny our grief and pretend that everything is all right instead of pouring out our pain to the Lord. They refer to Paul saying to the Thessalonians that the Christian shouldn’t sorrow like others who have no hope. While we should not face death and loss in a hopeless way neither should be pretend it isn’t real or overwhelming. God had both Job and Jeremiah to express their hurt in the strongest way possible. Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus whom he knew he was about to raise from the dead. But he groaned in his spirit at the thought of the family going through such pain. The word translated “groaned in his spirit” literally means to snort like a horse. The NIV has the word “indignant” to describe the feelings. He hurt and was angry and frustrated at what Satan was doing to people in death.

​It is normal for us to hurt, to grieve and be depressed during times of great loss. But it is vital in such times to lean on God. In Jeremiah 3 the prophet remembered the love and protection of God and cried out hopefully “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion says my soul. Therefore I will hope in him.” God is still there to lean on whether the hurt is brought on by my own sin and failure or as an attack from Satan on the righteous. He still loves and cares and is there to help when our hurt is there simply because we are human and live in a world of grief and loss.  

​So freely pour out your heart in grief. But keep hoping in the Lord whose steadfast love never fails and whose mercies never come to an end.

 

Leon Barnes, see Leon’s blog at “Http://leoninlittlerock.wordpress.com”

Guilty

             I’ve said many times that one of my favorite past-times is feeling guilty – like I’m really good at it. The good side of that is that there is no chance that I’m trying to “get away with something”. The guilt from any rule infraction chases me down and holds me captive until I’ve made it right. If I allow myself to get caught up in gossip or negative talking, you can bet I’ll soon be texting the people who heard it to apologize for the mis-step. For this kind of guilt, I’m thankful because I’m frightened of what I would become without it.

            If the Pharisees and priests of Jesus’ day could have had that kind of guilty nudging from the Holy Spirit, it may very well have saved them from themselves. If, after they plotted how to get rid of Jesus, one of them had written a note to the rest of the group, saying, “Guys, I’ve been thinking…and I just don’t feel good about this.” How would that have changed their involvement in the murder of the Savior of the world?

            Surely someone in the group or someone watching when they gave Judas money to turn in his master and friend, felt a little guilty. Surely someone wondered whether they were wrong in how they felt about Jesus. But no one spoke up – no one let the guilt take hold and push him to do the right thing.

            But then, even sadder is the response of Judas to those guilty feelings. To feel so overwhelmed by the guilt and to be completely unable to find a way out of the mess you’ve created, must be horrific. We might ask why he didn’t just repent like Peter did after denying he even knew Jesus, but he obviously couldn’t see past his guilt to any other solution than ending his life. He evidently didn’t realize what an amazingly gracious and forgiving God we serve. And many times we have the same problem. We see God as someone who is crouched and ready to condemn us, rather than as a parent who wants more than anything to be close to us.

            Guilt is good when it pushes us to make things right and to live closer to Jesus. Guilt is bad when it causes us to feel like there’s no way back – no forgiveness. God is love, therefore He only wants what is for our good, and forgiving is something that He excels at.

 

Tammy Beck

“No Guilt in Love”

I’m stilling chewing on this Sunday’s sermon over 1st Peter chapter 1. It made me think about love and guilt in a new way — together as a unit. I realized that if I feel guilty about something then the source must be a lack of love on my part! Just as there is “no guilt in love” it might also be said that “where love fails, guilt prevails.”

The passage in 1st Peter reminds me of a similar passage in Romans 12:9. I love the NLT version which says, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.”

So I have to ask: who do I say that I love, but could provide absolutely no evidence to someone to support my claim of love?

Who does our church or our campus ministry claim to love? And is there any evidence of that love?

These are hard questions, but I recently read a book that defined love in a way that might help answer some of these questions. The author says that to love someone is a rugged commitment to be: with them, for them, and unto them. As individuals and as a church I think we may be guilty of falling short of this kind of love. Personally, I know that I’m often for someone, meaning I wish them well, and I am also loving them unto something or someone, namely Christ. But what I most often guilty of is a failure to be with that someone whom I claim to love.

John 13:35 says,

“By this the world will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I believe that when we fail to love one another with the pure love that Peter talks about, we prove to the world that we are not Jesus’s disciples.

This convicts me. I see the faces of many people I know and claim to love, and I know that I’m guilty. How can I so badly wish for these people to be drawn deeper into Christ, but I can’t bring myself to sacrifice the time to be with them? Instead I’m for them from afar.

But I don’t want the guilt I feel to go away just yet! Instead, I pray that the Holy Spirit, as well as my fellowship with the people of God, would foster in me a love so pure that those around me KNOW that I follow Jesus. My challenge for everyone, myself included, this week is to spend time with someone, especially someone different from you, maybe even someone you find difficult to love. And pray. Pray that God helps us to really love people for who they are: sinners who, like us, stand helpless at the foot of the cross, sinners for whom Jesus gladly died.

Morgan Hines

A PURIFIED SOUL

             Isn’t it amazing to realize that another year is quickly reaching its conclusion? What in the world has happened that January 1st and December 31st of any year is so close together? Do you remember those days of your life when a year seemed to go on forever? With the soon arrival of a new year and lots of different things going on around us, I want to lay out a challenge from I Peter chapter one. Peter in the first half of chapter one described the wonders of belonging to Christ and the blessings that we have both already received and the ones that are to come. Then in verse 13 he started to build on that foundation. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

            As one year nears its close and a new year is ready to begin, how are we to get ourselves ready for the challenges that are before us? I don’t know what all those challenges will be, but there are always tragedies, triumphs and trials before us. To be ready for what lays ahead it is vital that we get our minds prepared. The old King James translation said, “Gird up loins of your mind.” It was the visual of one preparing for battle and putting on the battle gear to be ready, but Peter notes that it is all done in our mind. He challenged us to “Be holy as I am holy.” Since we all struggle with sin in our life, how in the world are we to be holy?

            “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (I Peter 1:22-23) Look at all the directions considered from one having new birth in Jesus. We purify the soul that has been stained by sin. It prepares us to love the brothers and sisters in Christ with a pure heart, with fervor or earnestness. Such a purified soul is maintained through ongoing obedience to the truth from the word of God that serves as an imperishable seed in us. Here the idea of the seed is as a sperm is planted in the woman sexually so that she becomes pregnant to give birth to a child. Spiritually, the word of God is planted in us and the child produced is one living for God by being holy and loving as a way of life.

            Notice how John takes this point even further in I John 3:9-10. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” The seed or sperm that brings about new birth remains in us to keep us from living a life of sin. One who goes through the action of baptism but doesn’t change their life isn’t really born of God. New birth doesn’t just purify our past, but changes our present and future with God.

 

Leon Barnes