Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hope in Loss

     In a recent podcast by Dr. R.C. Sproul, he shared the story of how his mother left this life and entered into the eternal presence of God.  He and his wife had just had their first child, and R.C.'s mother was elated.  When R.C. took her home, her last words to him were, "This is the happiest day of my life."  She went to bed that night and woke up in eternity.  Can you imagine that?  The joy of having a child is mixed with the grief that comes from losing a loved one.  However, think with me for a moment on how she left this world.  She said that it was the happiest day of her life.  God took her home with Him when she was filled with joy.  I cannot imagine a sweeter exit from the toils of this world.
     We often forget that this world is not our home.  We are passing through by God's design, and one day, we will enter eternal rest with Him for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  With this
The Cathedral at Lincolnshire, England
perspective in mind, we need to keep a few things in mind.
     When we lose a loved one, we grieve.  We miss their companionship, their smile, their warm embrace.  This is only natural, but we also must remember the admonition that Paul gives in his letter to the Thessalonians.  Chapter 4:13 reads:  "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."  Matthew Henry Commentary explains this portion of Scripture in this manner:  "Here is comfort for the relations and friends of those who die in the Lord. Grief for the death of friends is lawful; we may weep for our own loss, though it may be their gain. Christianity does not forbid, and grace does not do away, our natural affections. Yet we must not be excessive in our sorrows; this is too much like those who have no hope of a better life. Death is an unknown thing, and we know little about the state after death; yet the doctrines of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ, are a remedy against the fear of death, and undue sorrow for the death of our Christian friends; and of these doctrines we have full assurance. It will be some happiness that all the saints shall meet, and remain together for ever; but the principal happiness of heaven is to be with the Lord, to see him, live with him, and enjoy him for ever."  This is a great explanation we need to take to heart.
     According to psychologists (www.psychcentral.com), there are five stages of grief.  Not everyone goes through each stage, but this is often seen.  First comes denial and isolation.  This is a stage where we buffer the shock of loss.  It seems like a surreal experience.  When we lost our grandson, I told my husband that none of it seemed to be possible.  It was as though we were going through the motions, but nothing was real.  The second stage is often anger.  Our pain is intense as the reality of our loss is evident to us, and we often take out this anger on objects, friends or family.  We may not even realize we are doing this, but we tend to wall ourselves off from others.  Unfortunately, we often become angry with God.  We want to know "why" this person was taken and "why" now?   Then, comes the stage of bargaining.  In our vulnerability, we think that perhaps if we had done this or that the person would still be living.   Guilt raises its ugly head in this stage.  We can blame ourselves, a doctor or any other number of factors, but we often forget that God is Sovereign and knows the plans He has for us.  We cannot bargain ourselves out of the reality that He chose this time and place to bring a precious one home.
     Within the fourth stage of grief, we find depression.  It is a sadness and deep regret.  Likewise, I have heard it described as anger turned inward.  We do not enjoy life as we should and often the best remedy for this is understanding, hugs and allowing ourselves to open up and share our emotions with those we love.  Too often, we withdraw from the very people that can bring us comfort, but our healing begins when we open up and tell God exactly how we feel allowing Him to hold us close.
Finally, the fifth stage of grief is acceptance.  We come to this place where we focus on the hope and truth of the resurrection.  We are able to let go of our loved one knowing they are in the happiest, best place they could ever be.  This is what Paul indicated in his letter to the Thessalonians.  Those without Christ have no hope of ever seeing their loved ones again.  We, who are in Christ, have a sure promise even though now we grieve for a time.  We WILL be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ.
     Before my father died at the age of 63, he told my mother that he saw this beautiful city and the streets were gold.  He said it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  I believe he was describing heaven (found in Revelation 21).  This was a comforting thought for me.  I know I will see him again one day, and that has given me joy in the times when I miss him.  I still cry on occasion even though it has been years since his death.  However, I have hope in Christ.
     Since we do not know the hour or day when God will take us or a loved one home, we must make the most of every moment we have.  Certainly, Dr. Sproul never expected his mother to die when she did; yet, I cannot imagine a better time for her to leave than after the joy of a grandchild being born into this world.  Death is a reality we all have to face.  Therefore, we need to enjoy every contact we have with family and friends.  If we make the most of every gathering, we will not feel guilt when they are gone.  Likewise, we need to know that God in His complete sovereignty over life and death knows the best time to take a saint home.  Do we trust Him?  Can we bow to His infinite wisdom?  Often our reaction to His sovereign action in taking a loved one will reveal to us just how firm our faith in Him really is.  His plans are often a mystery to us which we cannot know by any means.  Thus, we must seek Him and His Word for comfort.  As we do, the peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Lets not waste a moment in loving on family and friends while we have the opportunity.  Tomorrow might be too late for this life, but we know and have hope that we will be together again in Christ for eternity.  The Word of God promises this.  Selah!
   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Forgotten Fire

     At a recent mission conference, we heard from a young family planning to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to work with a church there.  They reported that nearly 7,000 churches have closed their doors in this beautiful country and only a small portion of the population consider themselves believers.  It is mind boggling to consider these facts since Scotland was a country that took the lead in expounding the Word of God during the Reformation.  However, I do recall that when we visited Edinburgh we stopped in the Cathedral of St. Giles.  In this glorious building, we found a document of enormous importance tucked away in a side corner of the church.  On a stand covered in glass was the document of the original Covenanters (1638) many of whom gave up their lives for their beliefs in the tenants of the Reformed faith.  They held that the Bible was the very foundation of their faith and that Christ was the head of the church not a monarch.  Nearly 18,000 died in the struggle to win their freedom to worship God as they felt called to do.  Today, though, much of the fire is forgotten not unlike that important document stuck out of the way in the church.  There is a lesson we all need to take away from this historical event.
      Scotland is not the only nation who has churches closing, and a growing disinterest in the Christian faith.  It is easy to see in our own culture how many have turned to secular humanism as their religion of choice.  Relativism rules the day where what is true for you may not be true for me.  In the book of Revelation, we see this in the Church at Laodicea (Chapter 3:14-22):  "14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following:

National Covenant of 1638
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! 17 Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! 19 All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! 20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. 21 I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
     Our Lord Jesus Christ rightly pointed out that this church was only lukewarm.  There was no fire to be found in their hearts; instead, they were satisfied with where they were and with what they had. They didn't need anything or so they thought.  The sad part was that this church had lost its love for Jesus Christ.  They had taken their faith, put it under a glass frame and tucked it on the side of the church building so it would not be in the way.  Yet, according to the Lord, they were wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked in their ignorance.  Are we not the same when we neglect the elemental study of God's Word to seek out His wisdom, search His doctrine and find His truth?  Trusting in ourselves will gain us nothing but hungering and thirsting after His righteousness will enrich our lives and stoke the fire of faith.
     Never has there been a more important time in our history than now to revive our souls through repentance, study of His Word, and prayer.  Revival, renewal and restoration come when we begin in our own lives first and then carry the fire of God's truth to others.  This is how we change hearts and lives through the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we want more effective churches, more genuine preaching and a change in our culture, we need to be willing to begin in our lives.  Then, like the covenanters, we must be willing to take a stand for truth despite the consequences.  Our churches are not meant to be a museum for saints where we remember great times in the past.  They are to be, instead, a place where the fire of faith burns brightly based upon God's Word.  Jesus said to the Laodicean Church that He stands at the door and knocks.  The question is, "Will we be willing to open it quickly and allow His presence to fill us up?"  Let us pray for our churches everywhere that the fire of God's truth will be kindled in hearts anew.  Selah!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Have Become My Grandmother!

     This past week, in search of a new bedspread, I discovered the old fashioned hobnail cotton bedspread with fringe that I grew up with in my home.  Both my mother and grandmother had these on their beds.  I loved it at first sight, and so, with a click of the mouse, I ordered one.  When it arrived,  I was excited.  Now, if you had ask me during my teenage years, I would have told you that this is so old fashioned.  It's funny how the progression of life goes along.  First, we do not want to be like our mother or father.  "We will do things differently when we have our own family or are on our own."  However, we find out that mother was right about many things as we mature.  Then, we tell ourselves that we will never be locked into tradition like our grandmothers or grandfathers until the day we enter into that period of our lives.  Perspectives do change, though, as we travel the path of life.  What once we were so eager to discard in search of the new and better way of doing things, we now see as a safe and secure harbor in which we can rest and grow.
     When we were brand new Christians, we were excited about our faith and wanted to go and change the world.  This energy is good if we can harness it for His glory, but we learned quickly that we cannot push, shove or pull people into the kingdom.  Building relationship with others is the key to success.  
     In time, we also came to believe that we needed to leave the old way of doing church behind.  Traditions were stuffy and so we went to an independent fellowship that did just that.  However, we found ourselves in disagreement over what we considered to be bedrock doctrines of the faith as time went on leading to our departure from this fellowship.  It was a painful time in our lives.
     With time and healing, we returned to church and began attending the Presbyterian Church in our community.  I will never forget that first Sunday we worshipped there.  Saying the Lord's Prayer, repeating the Apostle's Creed, hearing the organ play, the choir sing and the pastor preach God's Word made me feel like I had come home again.  Having been raised in a Presbyterian Church, I was acquainted with the order of worship and found a deep peace through this.  The world batters us during the week, and we need a place where we can retreat to worship and grow.  I love the green pasture, and the still waters I find in what I once thought was "stuffy, traditional" worship.
     One of Paul's admonitions and pleas with believers was to be rooted and grounded in Christ so that we are not misled by false teachers or get caught up in the ideas of the world.  In his letter to the Colossians (2:6-8), he writes:  "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."  What wonderful words of truth Paul writes here.  It is so easy to follow bunny trails, to try to help God by doing things that are trendy in order to attract numbers, but what we really need is to be rooted and grounded in Christ.  We need to be established in the faith.  This is what I discovered after we had wandered a bit in the wilderness of "trying all things new".  Like the Prodigal Son, I was glad to be home again.
     Quite often, we as Christians take for granted the safety of the sheepfold that we belong to and want to change things or accommodate others.  This is when we need to be reminded of Paul's words.  The most important thing in terms of our faith is to be rooted and grounded in Christ.
     Some folks may not care for my old-fashioned hobnail bedspread, but I love it.  It keeps me warm when I am cold and cool on hot days.  The same is true for the faith once passed on to us.  We are to hold fast to it and seek the face of God daily.    Let us pray for our churches that they stay in the center of God's will.  Selah!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                                    ,