If Only

 

ApathyI have used those two words together way too often. I used these two words mostly to “second guess” a decision or choice that I made. “If Only” often carries with it regret over something that was left undone or unfinished.  If only is related to “looking back” and how I can have 20/20 vision. If only comes along when I have new information and new options that either I didn’t have or didn’t see previously.

Jesus came to the earth as a baby born of Mary a virgin and He was raised in a Carpenter shop. He began His earthly ministry around the age of 30 and set about teaching and hanging out with a select few for the purpose of bringing glory to His Father. His actions were often misunderstood or misinterpreted then. We have the privilege of seeing His actions as well as the reasons behind them. This is nearly impossible when things are happening in “real time”.

Jesus’ friend Lazarus had recently died. He had gotten word that Lazarus was sick, but chose to stay where He and His team were ministering. Mary, Martha & Lazarus were dear friends and He often stayed with them when He was near Jerusalem. They lived in Bethany, a few miles outside Jerusalem. He then headed toward their place. When He was just outside the village, Mary & Martha got word He was coming their way, so Martha goes out to meet Him. Check this out…

20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”  (John 11:20-27 NLT)

The first thing Martha said to Jesus was “If Only”. She was grieving and hurting. She had been with Jesus and knew of His healing power because she had seen with her own eyes. She believed that Jesus could have healed her brother. Jesus had more than “healing” in mind. He was about to “blow their mind”.

This is the first time that Jesus calls Himself “the resurrection and the life”. This is a bold claim for sure, but Martha that she believed that He was Who He said He was. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He took His ministry to a whole new level. He also explained that He was hear for the Glory of God. I haven’t always understood how God can uses hard times, hardship and suffering for His glory. He can use the sudden death of a friend for His glory. I don’t always understand this, but this truth is woven throughout the pages of His Word. He is always pointing to eternal life as the “end goal”, not just life here on earth. We are here for His Glory, not our own. It’s hard to understand this concept when we haven’t “been there and done that”.  Eternal life is a mystery to us. It is not a mystery to the Lord. I can’t always explain the reasons things happen, but I do believe that I can find a way to give the Lord honor and praise in every situation. I don’t want to call on Him in regret (if only), I want to call on Him with respect and trust to help me walk through any circumstance that I face.

Pressing On!

Dwayne

Convinced

Discussing the truthThere are times when I simply don’t believe what I just saw. When I see a magic trick and I don’t know how the person pulled it off – I’m still convinced that he/she simply tricked me. I think this word convinced is a “1st cousin” to the word conviction. When I’m convinced about a truth it is usually related to a conviction.

Paul writes a second letter to the church at Corinth and he realized that he probably ticked some of them off or hurt their feelings with his first letter. His second letter, he doesn’t really “sugar coat” things but he does own the fact that he might have hurt them with his previous letter. Check this out…

For even if I grieved you with my letter, I don’t regret it. And if I regretted it—since I saw that the letter grieved you, yet only for a while— I now rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 CSB)

I’m not really “preachy” with my conversations. I have found that discussion and dialogue produce more long-term results than one-sided rants from the Word. That is just not my style. I am convinced that the Lord will do what He needs to do to get my attention. He will allow some crazy stuff to come my way. He will allow suffering in my life because it drives me to my knees before Him.  I don’t believe that the Lord causes the suffering but I do believe He could protect me from it (and often does), but He never wastes a moment of my suffering. He uses that to build and develop my God-honoring character that produces a repentant and moldable heart for Him.

I’m convinced that the Lord loves me more than I know how to love my kids. He showers me with grace and mercy that I don’t deserve. He is so patient with me as I keep working on my walk with Him. He is relentless in His pursuit of my heart. I have suffered and grieved in this life, and I always ended up crying out before Him seeking His help and His direction through the suffering and struggle.

I’m convinced that suffering, grief and struggle are tools meant to destroy me but end of building me and making me stronger.

Pressing On!

Dwayne

Grief & Sadness

Beauty girl cryThis is a word that covers many areas of my life. I have felt grief over the loss of a loved one. I’ve felt grief over the loss of a job. I’ve felt grief over the loss of a friend. I think grief touches everyone in some form or another. There are some losses that are less devastating and less permanent. If I lose a job, I can get another one. If I lose a friend I can be a friend to another and soon move forward. I’m not quite sure how you grieve the loss of a country. In Psalm 137, the writer is grieving the loss of their country being captured and their lives are forever different. Check this out…

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4 NIV)

It really is hard to think about songs of joy during pain. There are times that I can’t think because the grief hurts so deeply. I remember times when I cried until it felt like there were no more tears. I have made some decisions during times of grief that were not smart. A few years ago, after coming through a really hard time where grief was pushing on me hard, I determined that I would never go through grief alone – the Lord would always be there. I decided to claim His promises and lean into Him. His Presence did not disappoint. He gave great comfort but even greater clarity. I can sing songs of joy I the midst of great pain if His Presence is in me. He comforts me deeply and profoundly. He turns my sadness into singing. He turns my grief into joy. I can’t fully explain this to someone who amid struggle, but after the dust clears, this trust in the Lord is something to consider.

Pressing On!

Dwayne

Grief

 

DevastatedI know people personally who have gone through the depths of grief. It is a dark valley and the road is paved with despair. It is so hard to see out of the valley. I’m so thankful that the Lord can come along side and direct the grieving out of that dark, dreary valley.

Ephraim, the son of Joseph when through this dark valley of grief. Check this out…

Ezer and Elead were killed by the native-born men of Gath, when they went down to seize their livestock. 22 Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him. 23 Then he made love to his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his family. (1 Chronicles 7:21b-23 NIV)

The part of this passage that jumped in my lap this morning was the fact that Ephraim mourned for his sons many days. My heart aches for parents who have lost a child in death.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced five stages of grief many years ago and I believe they are pretty significant and accurate to those who have faced the sudden death of a child, a parent, a friend or a spouse.

  • Denial — The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  • Anger — When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”.
  • Bargaining — The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
  • Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon, so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
  • During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  • Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”

In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions. (“On Death & Dying” 2011 Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) I also have heard from numerous people that Granger Westburg’s book “Good Grief” is an excellent, short but honest and with the heart of a pastor.

I’m thankful that our church (Southern Hills Christian Church) is offering a restoration group/class called GriefShare starting in August. This group will be led by two very dear friends who have been through this valley of grief in the loss of a child. I think the sign up is going on now at www.sohillscc.com.

I haven’t grieved the death of a child, parent, spouse or close personal friend. I do remember the grief of divorce many years ago and the process of grief is similar. There are things in this life that are very certain and death is one of them. I’m not going to predict how I will handle death that is up close and personal, but I fully intend to walk with the Giver of Life through the valley of death. He never leaves me alone.

 

Pressing On!

Dwayne

Strength For The Fight

Man withstands moving downI sometimes try to imagine what some of our military men and women go through in fighting to protect the freedoms that I enjoy. I can hardly put my head around some of the conditions of the battle. I assume that there is an emotional/mental component of struggle from being away from home and loved ones. I also imagine that there is a big physical component to the battles or drills that they participate in for sure.

There was the death of the King of Ammonites and David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to the family and his son who was now king. The son obviously had some bad counsel and suspected David’s men as spies so he had half their bear cut off and he cut of part of their clothes exposing their backside – both of the actions were meant to humiliate the men. It really did humiliate the men and really sent David sideways too. He told Joab to go take care of business. Check this out…

9 Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. 10 He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. 11 Joab said, ‘If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.’ (2 Samuel 10:9-12 NIV)

That last verse jumped out and landed all over me this morning. I need to be encouraged to be strong and brave in the middle of personal struggles and suffering. There are times when suffering comes (and it’s never welcomed), that I have to walk through the struggle. I would be wise to quote Joab, the commander of David’s army – “be strong and let us fight bravely. . . The Lord will do what is good in His sight”.

As I live out my life today and every day, I want to see suffering and struggle as tools that the Lord can use to shape me. The enemy tries to use those things to destroy me, but God can use “all things for good”.   The apostle Paul reminds me that with the Holy Spirit in me, I can face whatever and be strong. Check this out…

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: 

‘For your sake we face death all day long;

    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 NIV)

He gives me the strength I need to push and fight through suffering, pain, grief and hardship.

Pressing On!

Dwayne

Good Grief

DevastatedThis is often a slang phrase when something comes as a surprise, an irritation or frustration. “Good Grief Charlie Brown” because a household phrase thanks to Charles Shultz and his cartoon, Peanuts. I’ve used the slang before, but the phrase came to mind this morning in light of the struggle that the Lord has with His people. Check this out…

8 ‘“But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them. (Ezekiel 6:8-10 NIV)

 

I can hear the pain in the Lord’s voice as He announces this judgment on His people. He loves them, but they have grieved Him deeply with their choices. I know that kids grieve their parents with their behavior and spouses grieve their spouse sometimes too.

Grieving is a process. It is a stress filled process. I’m reminded of the Kübler-Ross model or five stages of grief. The model was first introduced by Swiss Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, and was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I’ve learned over the years that the process of grief has no shortcuts or “work arounds” – you have to go through grief. It can be excruciatingly painful work, but necessary to put certain painful experiences in proper perspective. The Lord’s grief was painful regarding my sin. My grief is painful when I have to deal with my loss and deep struggle. I remember going the through the grief process during the death of my marriage many years ago. I also remember the stages of grief when my kid was battling cancer – I grieved deeply. Grief is actually good even though it’s not a fun process. It can be a cleansing process and a perspective changing process.

The Lord has been my “Grief Counselor” on many occasions. Sometimes I’ve needed “God with skin on” – a person to walk with me through my grief. I’m so thankful for His hand through the toughest of painful experiences.

Pressing On!

Dwayne