Support in a Time of Loss, When Does it End?

“She’s gone” my cousin, Rebecca, said. I had called her when I had missed two calls. My grandmother had been battling cancer for months. We understood the last few months that she wasn’t winning this battle. The death of a family member is unique. The whole family gets together. We share memories and tears. We catch up on where life has taken us. Then, as quick as we come together, we depart. We go back to our lives, to our families, to our places of work and worship. This is the roughest time for the spouse or those closest to the deceased. During the arrangements, there is so much to do. Decisions to make, people to pick up at the airport, phone calls, etc. Then everyone goes back home. And they are left in an empty house. They habitually think that their spouse is getting back from the store or walking down the hall. They think of something they need to tell the person or something that needs added to the grocery list. Then they realize, it’s only them now. After years, even decades, of marriage, of shared life together, they must adjust all over again. This blog post is a little different from others. It leaves you with a simple encouragement. We’re great at supporting people through the funeral and calling hours. But what about that man or woman down the road who lost their spouse six months ago? Now is the time that it is hardest. When do your letters and phone calls generally end? That is probably when they need support the most.

Friday Favorite – A Short Love Letter from God Himself to You

The following is a letter from God Himself to You. It is from Take Heart YZ by Bill Senyard.

“My Beloved,

Do you know how much I adore you? When I look deep into your eyes – into your weary and beat-up soul, do you know what I feel? I am stunned at what I see. I made you for a particular purpose of great glory and creativity. I specifically chose your eye color, your hair color, and your stubbornness because no other colors or traits would do.

Up until now you have been resistant to My love. I know your struggle better than even you do. You have had your reasons. But now, it is the time for you to e loved with the love that up until now you could only dream of from a distance. This is what your soul has longed for since you were a child. This is a love far greater than what even your parents gave you. This is the love that you have been searching for all of your life in all the wrong places. I love you as you are – right now – with all of the worts and wrinkles – all of the scars and mistakes. I look at you and knwo who you really are. I love you far more than you even love yourself. You look in the mirror and you see distortions and fractures – scars. I only see your deep residing beauty – unscarred. Look into your reflection in my eyes – then you will see and know.

Come to me to really be embraced. You don’t need to dress up for me. I am not a fan of masks. No doubt, this is a scary thing for you to hear. Love has betrayed you too often. It has cost you many things, many scars. You have many fears. It is scary to be vulnerable to such a love. You, no doubt, imagine that maybe I too will not love you – that I would be ashamed of what I see or that I would be angry at you like others have been. But that will not happen. I only desire to honor you with great love and glory.

I invite you to come into my embrace just to be held and adored – as you are. You can do nothing to earn my love. It cannot be earned. It has already been paid for by my Son on your behalf. It is perfectly now yours forever. To you I am now the Great Lover King. Up until now, you have not known this amazing love because you have not asked for it. Or you have pursued other gods, counterfeits. Hear this. Know this. My love will not leave you as you are. This love heals.

Do not look within. Come to Me as I am. Do not delay. Come. If anyone thirsts, they should come to me. I will quench their thirst. Your soul is very thirsty. Come and drink freely. Do not hesitate. Do not be ashamed. Come. It is time to leave the darkness and shadows that plague you and enter the light.

Signed,

God”

This is adapted from Song of Solomon by Bill Senyard in Take Heart YZ, published by Gospel App Ministries.

Tragedy in Sin City

It’s the question that many Christians today are thinking, but few are offering answers to. 58 have died. Over 500 more injured. The shooter killed himself. The country shocked. Shocked at the devastation. Shocked at the unfathomable death toll. And it all happened in Las Vegas, the city known for gambling, alcohol, and the slogan, “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.” Because of this location, many Christians ask, was God attempting to punish Vegas for its reputation and “Sin City” appeal? Was this city and its many residents, business owners, and visitors worse sinners than the rest of us? Were they getting a wake up call?

I believe that we find an answer to this in Luke 13:4-5 where Jesus says, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Are mass tragedies aimed at populations of people who are the worst of sinners? I believe that Jesus teaches us here that the answer is no. Each one of us is a sinner in some way. Each of us is in need of Christ for repentance and healing. Each of us need to repent and ask for Christ to renew our hearts. That is true whether we talk about the “big” sins in our life or the “little” sins like white lies or ungodly thoughts.

Some would ask, what about the Old Testament? God told the Israelites to wipe the Canaanites off the map. Later, God uses the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar to punish Israel for its sins. Isn’t this similar? Isn’t God punishing Las Vegas for its sin the way that he used Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for their sins in 2005? If you are asking yourself that, it is a good question. It is easy to find a parallel between these two. It’s important to remember that Israel was a nation wholly made up of believers. Today, no nation on earth fits this criteria. Not even the “Christian” nations. Also, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, the way that he reveals himself to his people changes. So does the way that he interacts with them. Thus, we come back to the New Testament and the tragedy at the tower of Siloam. Jesus specifically teaches that those who died weren’t greater sinners. So each of us can think on our shared humanity. Each of us are sinful. Each of us need Christ’s death on the cross. Each of us need forgiveness for our sins. Tragedies like this should be a sad, yet needed reminder for us. A reminder that regardless of where we are in life, Christ is our rock. He is our fortress that we must run to in a time such as this.

F.A.I.T.H. 201 – Adoption Sermon

We continued looking at the Gospel at a deeper level yesterday. F stands for Fallen. A stands for Adoption. Believer have been brought into the family of God and live as his cherished children. Enjoy!

F.A.I.T.H. 201 – Adopted

Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12

Word of the Day – Adopted

There was a loud knock on the door followed by a shout from my sister, “Connie had her baby!” Connie is my aunt, my father’s sister. I was six years old when this happened. That night, she had their first child, named Seth. From that point, Scott and Connie had two more kids. So the Jackson Five lived, mostly happy, for many years. But then they felt called by God to not stop there. As Seth moved on to college and Abbie and Rebecca moved to high school, they signed up to be foster parents. They fostered 14 kids, and two of these, named London and Paris, were with them for almost 19 months. Ever since that stay, these two have been shuffled through multiple foster homes, never really settling. After these two, another two touched their hearts. They are named Lillie and Sammie. Connie and Scott were led by God to take yet another step of faith. On June 3rd 2014, they officially adopted them. And they became their own kids, a part of the family. The Jackson 5 became the Jackson 7. Did you know that one out of every 25 families in the US has an adopted child? You might even know a child who is adopted, without knowing that the child is adopted. Here’s a sad reality. 80%, 80% of those in the prison were in the foster care system at some point in their life. Connie looks back on their foster care and adoption process and says, “We had 14 different kids and each one touched our hearts… It’s so sad.  There is such a need for loving foster families.” There is such a need for kids, but really, for each of us, to have a place where we belong, to have a family that we call our own.

Ephesians 2:12 tells us, “That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens…and strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Today we’re continuing a look at our acronym for FAITH. Essentially, we’re learning about the Gospel. But it’s the Gospel at a deeper point, at a deeper level, than we’ve heard it before. F stands for fallen. Fallen is where we are without Christ. In a state of fallenness and sinfulness, we are aliens and strangers in this world. That’s probably how many of the foster children feel. They are separated from their parents. Then they feel accepted by loving foster parents, but then they are shuffled around. Again, and again, and again. But there’s hope. And in a way, it’s a hope that we have found as well. Because Paul doesn’t simply say that we are strangers or aliens. That feeling of being alone, missing out, or lost isn’t where our story ends. In Ephesians 1, he says, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will.” We were once strangers and aliens have now been adopted as one of God’s family. We who were once lost, sinful, fallen have become sons. Scripture even says that we are, “co-heirs with Christ.” We are heirs of the promises that God has made to those who came before us.  

When we are brought to faith, Paul tells us that there is a major change. God originally created each of us in his image. But we have been separated from him. We all fell in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. But Paul tells us in Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in the justification of life.” In other words, Paul is telling us that we go from being creations of God to children of God. We go from being simply fallen to adoption into God’s family because of Christ’s work on the cross.

At one point in the book of Numbers, God tells Moses to bless his brother, Aaron. This blessing is one of the most commonly used blessings in the church. He says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you (or turn his face toward you) and give you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26) The Lord wants us to remember his face shining down upon us. That he turns his face toward us. When God looks down upon you, how do you envision his face? Angry? Disappointed? Never satisfied? Stern? Numbers tells us that it is shining down upon you. That it is gracious toward you. That he desires to bless you and provide peace. In Ephesians, Paul continues to tell us of God’s posture toward us. We are told that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Is that how you understand God looking down upon you? With his face shining down, with a smile on his face, reminding you that you are his precious child.

As a part of his family, we get to now live as those who are a part. To live as his sons and daughters. Verse 11 tells us that we have obtained an inheritance and have been predestined to his purpose. Then verse 12 adds that “we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” Friends, as adopted sons and daughters of God, we have been blessed and made holy in Him. We have been brought from sin and fallenness into a new life in his family. Therefore, we don’t need to live as those who were aliens and strangers. Instead, we live with the comfort and confidence of knowing that God chose me. That God accepted me in his Beloved, in Christ. But it isn’t in arrogance or pride. Instead, we remember that every time we point to ourselves for picking him, I think the Scriptures teach us to turn the finger around and point to Christ.

Each day, Sammie and Lillie get a little older. At some point, they will develop to a point where they can understand what happened when they were younger. They will understand that two loving parents took them in when they had been separated from their parents. Just like we were adopted by Christ when we were stranger and aliens who had been cut off, separated from God. Sammie and Lillie will learn about the selflessness of two people who took them in out of all the foster children out there. The two people who choose them for adoption when they were in need. In this way, Sammie and Lillie are just like you and me. In need, cut off, yet brought in, (slowly) greatly loved, and made a part of the family. Do you feel like a part of the family of God? Do you feel like one of his sons or daughters whom he runs to when you’re in a time of need? Pray to God and ask him to remind you of who you have become, because of what he has done. Ask him to remind you of the many blessings that Christ has blessed you with. Pray he reminds you that have been destined for adoption, chosen, that his face is shining down upon you, that you are co-heirs with Christ, that you have been accepted in Christ. Because when we remember and sense these realities at our core, we live out of a reality that was already there in the first place. A reality that is there because of what Christ did for us.

Friday Favorite – Faith Unfolding by Jim Osterhouse

Faith unfolding is a very short book (only 80 pages!) that has inspired my current F.A.I.T.H. 201 sermon series. The Gospel is the center of Christianity, and Faith Unfolding will deepen your understanding and living of the Gospel. It is a short, yet powerful study of God’s grace and sovereignty. The link to the Amazon page is below.

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/159255671X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

A Dog’s Passing & Loss

Susie was 14 years old, and a beloved member of the family. She lit up the room, especially my father, when she walked in. Susie was my father’s faithful dog, her princess, for over a decade. He loved to spoil her, take her with him on work trips, and snuggle with her during Sunday afternoon naps. A few weeks ago, my parents made the hard choice to put her down after a short illness. Their house won’t be the same. They provide us with unwavering love, faithfulness, a house covered in dog hair, and, sometimes, a few too many kisses. Losing a pet might not come across as a big deal to some. We’re not talking about a friend or relative. But any pet owner will tell you. Dogs are a part of the family.  Their personalities influence the atmosphere in our home. Their loss is painful to the kids and adults alike.

Throughout our lives, we face many losses. We may get laid off or let go from our work. We may have to say goodbye to a home or a business. We may move far away and say goodbye to friends and neighbors. We have to say goodbye to beloved friends or family who pass away or move away. Someone once said that the only constant in life is change. With changes comes loss. Have you ever felt that the harder you try to hold onto to the old way of doing things, the more God seems to be carrying you into something new? Regardless of the losses that we face, one thing remains the same. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) says, “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” God loves you more than you can fathom. His love for his sheep will never run out or be cut off. His love for you lives on throughout the losses and changes that we face in life. His face shines upon you as his beloved child. Whatever you may be facing today, ask the Lord to remind you of his love throughout today.

Friday Favorite: Outrageous Love, Transforming Power by Terry Wardle

There is a crisis of immaturity in Christian leadership, Terry begins this books. Do we know the Scriptures? Yes. Do we attend church regularly? Yes. Do we strive to learn more and pray? Probably. Yet, the church needs leadership that is immersed in the Spirit and has its identity rooted in Christ. This is a book that I reread every year to remind myself where I am and where God desires to take me. I highly recommend this short book to all believers.

https://smile.amazon.com/Outrageous-Love-Transforming-Power-Likeness/dp/0974844144/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506096591&sr=8-1&keywords=outrageous+love+transforming+power