Navigating Life’s Devastating Losses

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The date was April 14, 1994.  I had only been at the office for about an hour when I received a call from a neighbor.  “You need to come home quickly. Your residence is on fire!”  We jumped in the car and sped home to asses the situation.  We couldn’t get close because of the number of fire engines on the scene.  We got out of the car and ran toward what was once our home.  I was devastated to see that there was nothing left but smoldering timbers and a burnt out shell.  We were left with nothing except the clothes we were wearing.

I’ll never forget the feeling of loss when the fire crews escorted us back to the scene to see if there was anything we could salvage under their close supervision for our safety. “Things”, as people suggest, can be replaced. But photos of the kids in various stages of their lives, parties, family heirlooms passed down, one-of-a-kind keepsakes-all gone in an instant. Thirty five years of history and collections reduced to ashes.  Grateful to be alive, of course, but the loss was real and the mourning genuine.

This week as we witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that is still wreaking havoc, my heart goes out to the victims because I know exactly how they feel and the challenges they face financially and emotionally as they begin the slow process of rebuilding. Some of these victims were already displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  It does my heart good to see how the Texas community has already come together to offer shelter, aide and whatever assistance is necessary to assure the best possible outcome to the neighbors they have never before met.  In a world of social media wars and disingenuous outrage over issues of little significance in comparison, the things that matter most quickly rise to the surface when such tragedies occur. Our thoughts and prayers will be for the people of South Texas as they begin the rebuilding process.

However, burnt timbers and flooded homes are not the only signs of a devastating loss.  For some, life may have seemed to be going fairly smooth when suddenly everything they held dear was stripped away and they are left sitting in a pile of rubble no less devastating as the aftermath of a powerful natural disaster. Through the death of loved ones, broken relationships, divorce and other emotional tragedies, one can find themselves sifting through the rubble trying to find anything they can salvage from life as they knew it.  The stress and psychological effect can be paralyzing, the will to move on temporarily nonexistent and the realization of the losses traumatic.

I would offer up that it may in fact be easier to replace shelter and bedding and clothing than it is to replace the overwhelming loss of the infrastructure that makes up one’s life and the broken hearts that are left with no real consolation. Time may heal all wounds, but how much time is always the question, as is the real level of recovery expected. It is in these times of loss that God’s grace is the only remedy and hope one can cling to without being disappointed or let down. God is close to the brokenhearted and collects our tears as His gems.  Only those who have suffered the loss of everything they own can fully relate to the sense of loss others in similar situations experience.  And only those who have lost all they hold precious and dear can fully appreciate the feeling of hopelessness as they somehow try to muster the strength and courage to regroup, rebuild and recover.

The best source of hope we all have in dire circumstances can be found in scripture.  They may for some ring a bit hollow at first, but through repetition and eventual adaptation, they become our strength:

From Job 5, “He sets on high all who are lowly and lifts those who mourn to safety”

From Isaiah 41, “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed for I am still your God. I will strengthen and help you and hold you in the palm of my mighty right hand”

From Matthew 11, “Come to me, all of you who are weary with heavy burdens (and broken hearts), and I will give you relief.”

However devastating our losses may be, whether material or emotional, our Father is not oblivious.  There is noting hidden from His view, nothing that catches Him off guard and nothing too big for Him to resolve.  I tell myself this everyday-I have to.  May it be so for you as well.

 

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“Finally, All of You, Live in Harmony…”

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When you combine three or more specific but unique root notes on the musical scale they create a very pleasant sounding single harmonic chord. These chords are then arranged or scored and the result is a beautiful piece of music-Harmony.  Some of the greatest bands of all time are known for their incomparable harmonies-The Bee Gees, Boys to Men, The Eagles, The Stylistics, Acapella and yes, even Abba! Harmony is a beautiful thing when aspired to and achieved.  It can also be extremely painful even to the untrained ear when one of the notes is not in tune with the others!

As followers of Christ we are exhorted through scripture to live at peace with each other, in harmony with our Christian siblings and with the world at large so that nothing evil can be said of us and so that the name of Christ is not tarnished. Sadly, this is not always the case.  As I observe the recent riots centered around hate groups and the resulting violent counter protests in Charlottesville, the controversy over the NFL, the extreme left and right rallies wherever the POTUS is appearing, the obvious agenda of media coverage to create false barriers and all the consequential replies and posts on social media, which has made experts of us all in each and every subject, I am left wondering why we have allowed our Christian mandates to be hijacked by emotional responses that cause betrayal and division. When differences of opinion, strategy or approach result in labeling, bashing or overly heated exchanges aired on social media like yesterday’s dirty laundry, we are not only betraying each other but our Lord whose name we sometimes falsely bear.

The title above is taken from 1 Peter 3. This is what it says in full context:

 “Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing”.

The circumstances of this particular letter is extremely relevant to what is going on in our world today.  The author of the letter is the Apostle Peter, believed to have been written while he was Bishop of Antioch.  It was addressed to various churches, Christ-followers in Asia Minor who were enduring religious persecution for their faith by those opposed to the church and its teachings, much like what we are seeing today.  The difference, however, and it’s a biggie, is that the church was not at odds against itself but wholly united for the cause of Christ.  But many in the church today are being wounded by friendly fire from within the brotherhood. Those wounds are profoundly deep and take much longer to heal and recover from.

In an effort to avoid any contribution on my part to the divisions seen in the Body, I decided to refrain from politically partisan posts or comments.  And yet, try as I might, I am sometimes compelled to add my two cents worth of wisdom since I too have become a social media expert, only to be quickly reminded why I swore off such participation.  Wee can’t all be alike, thank God, and we will each have different perspectives on certain issues based on our upbringing, our environment and our own personal experiences and history.  But the vigor with which we sometimes respond and the emotional hijacking of our character whenever those differences are made known, offers little resemblance to the passage above from 1 Peter. The words harmony, sympathetic, compassionate and humble, should be our guiding compass if we are compelled to jump into the fray of a particular cause or injustice.  But we can’t be harmonious if we are all off key, we can’t be sympathetic if we refuse to consider opposing views, we can’t show compassion if we’ve left grace and mercy behind, and we most certainly cannot be humble if we are hell bent on winning an argument and being seen as “right”.

The ideal of a perpetual state of peace may only exist in old Beatles songs, but the daily commands left for us in scripture can not and should not be so easily tossed to the side jut because we feel compelled to take up the banner for some issue that hits close to home. Yes, scriptures also tell us to combat injustice whenever we see it, bit is also tells us how that should be accomplished and seen. However when we crank up our volume to match the intensity of the worldly volume, we lose all credibility and can do more harm than good.  There will be a day for all Christian believers when the differences we so vigorously exaggerated just for the sake of a Hatfield-McCoy like feud will be of no consequence or recollection as finally we achieve harmony and one accord around the Great Throne and the mandates of Holy scripture are finally fulfilled in a peaceful eternal Kingdom.  Would that it would begin here with the time we have left on Earth.

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

Saturation-The Myth of Chasing God

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Lately I’ve been on somewhat of a campaign against some questionable teaching and doctrine.  There are catch phrases and clichés we use in the religious vernacular without giving it much thought-I’m guilty too.  One of those is the concept of the believer chasing after God, as if they have somehow drifted away.  Is it really possible for an engaged believer to move away from God?

It doesn’t matter how long you have walked in the faith-there will be times when you doubt God’s presence, when you sense abandonment and are tricked into believing God has left you on your own.  Trust me when I say I know how easy it is to feel this way when everything you thought was solid suddenly crumbles under your feet and you are left wondering what the hell just happened.  Many are the times that God’s silence in the middle of severe testing is misinterpreted as God’s departure, and that is not sound Biblical teaching.  We are compelled to accept our feelings and emotions as reality and the only departure is that of our way of thinking in light of God’s Word.

First, believer and follower or not, God is omnipresent.  He is everywhere, all the time and at the same time, like the oxygen in our atmosphere.  He saturates everything.  This implies that He is also in us, through us and around us always.  I used in my title the word saturation. It is the perfect term relative to God’s existence in and around His children.  Saturation literally means to be in a state or process when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with or in any other way added to!  What a great concept of God! If I were to use the sponge as an illustration, it would go like this.  I can take a dry sponge and drop it into a sea of water.  It will float on the surface for a time until it slowly begins to absorb water.  The dry sponge would be the one seeking God but not yet committed.  As the seeker begins to accept His grace and reality he slowly absorbs the truth and the saturating essence of God until at the point of total acceptance, he is fully saturated and sinks to the depths of God’s goodness.  He is full of water.  He can come under attack by any one of the sea’s natural predators and believe he is no longer wet or that God has left him but his perception doesn’t change the reality-he is saturated by a God who doesn’t leave or separate from us when we are feeling otherwise.

Consider these irrevocable promises recorded for our encouragement for those times when we question God’s presence;

Psalm 139:7-12 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea…

Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Matthew 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Popular recording artists The Newsboys recorded a song entitled Wherever We Go, and talks about God always going with them.  I like the line, “Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at”.  When it comes to our way of thinking about the impossibility of escaping or running out of God’s presence, it is much more sound doctrine than you could ever imagine!

 

 

 

Our Amazing Race

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There is a popular reality show on television called The Amazing Race.  The objective is easy enough, be the first team to reach the destination and win the prize.  The race is broken down into segments or legs.  Upon completion of a leg the team is presented with a clue as to the next pit stop destination.  The teams are given credit cards to use to purchase travel, and a stipend for food and other necessities along the way.  So ultimately, each participant knows where the next stop is and is given everything necessary to reach their destination.

But…what if the rules were different?  What if the teams were asked to travel a road but they didn’t know where it was leading?  And what if they determined they must be at a pit stop but there were no clues given as to the next destination?  How would the game change if they knew they were in a race but had no idea where the finish line was let alone how to get there?  It wouldn’t make for good TV, that much is certain.  And yet many times as believers in Christ, we are called into similar situations, finding ourselves on a road we aren’t familiar with, one that leads to a place unknown.

Our amazing race is often times more of an obstacle course full of hazards and pitfalls we don’t see coming.  We are put on a path we didn’t choose and have no other option but to stay on the path even in the midst of falling trees, sinkholes, quick sand and venomous creatures.  We may believe we have sure footing and are running at an even pace when suddenly a gust of wind knocks us off our feet and we end up on our backs looking up and wondering what just hit us.  Illness, unemployment, divorce, crime, accidents…our hazards.  They can cause even the most devout Christian to ask why.  David asked God why many times in the Psalms.  “If you appointed me king why am I hiding in a cave?” If I am chosen why am I running for my life?”  “Why have you abandoned me? When will you come to my rescue?”  A man after God’s own heart, asked Him “why” many times.

If you’ve ever been in a nasty storm or blizzard where visibility was zero and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, you will be able to relate to being in the midst of trials so severe you can’t see God in it.  And yet we are compelled to rely on our belief that He is ever-present even when we can’t find Him, even when we can’t determine purpose or direction, even when He leaves us no clues as to the intended outcome. Sometimes we can’t see the path that lies before us-we can only see the next step.  We are told in Psalm 119 that the Word of God is a “Lamp for our feet, a light for our path“, even if only the next few steps are illuminated. We are also given this bit of hope, a rock solid promise and clue, if you will, from Proverbs 3, my translation:

Trust in the Lord with all you have left and don’t try to figure out His purpose with your human mind.  In everything you say and do continue to confess Him as Sovereign Lord and He will give you a path you can navigate.”

Grace for the race, enough light for the next step-sometimes that’s all we’re given.  All we can know for sure is that someone has already run this race for us, long before we came along, and we know it can be navigated and it has an eventual destination.  Peace and blessings.

 

 

 

Cup Runneth Over or Leaking Out the Bottom?

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Can we put aside the Christian facades and be real for a minute?  Believers are expected to live out their lives with a smile pasted on their face as if oblivious to all that’s happening around them, “counting it all joy when facing trials of every nature” as if numb to pain like mindless zombies on Quaalude. But for every believer who truly lives like this, with a cup that runneth over, there’s a believer whose glass is always half empty because of the leaks in it, some due to bad choices but often times due to no real fault of their own.  And try as they might to fix the leaks and minimize the loss, they only encounter additional leaks, like a bad cartoon character using gum to stop a leak in a dam but running out of gum before running out of leaks.

It is hard to not be distracted by the reality of our circumstances. Even the Apostle Peter, whose faith was such that he was the only person to ever walk on water besides Jesus, could not help but notice the waves licking at his feet and the darkness of the watery depth that endangered him to the point of temporarily losing his religion.  This same Peter, the Rock, crumbled in fear when asked if he was one of the disciples of Jesus, to the point of denying all knowledge of Him to save his own skin. Thomas, referred to by some as the doubting Saint, was a man like Peter who lived life for three years in the footsteps of Jesus, heard His messages first hand, witnessed His miracles and sat in on the intimate lessons Jesus taught His disciples.  But when faced with the physical evidence of torture and death that his eyes could not deny, Thomas doubted that Jesus could really do what He claimed He would, and had to be shown physical evidence that in fact Jesus did exactly what He said.  I don’t know about you but I can freely admit I am no Peter or Thomas.  And so the cup leaks.

I am not convinced that God is impressed with our brave fronts or the smiley masks we hide behind when faced with unwanted changes or calamity. In fact it reads in Psalm 34 that “God is close to the broken hearted”. We can sing and proclaim all we want “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering..” on the outside but there are those times when our spirit fails us, when our drive and passion wane, and just uttering the name “Jesus” is a challenge.

Leaks come in many manifestations-physical illness, unemployment, failed businesses, unwanted divorce, criminal victimization, and those unmentioned “testing of our faith” that all of us need but none of us want. The outward evidence of the Apostle Paul’s faith is recorded-he healed the sick and raised the dead just as Jesus did!  But the inward evidence of his faith told another story.  He had physical ailments that he was never healed of and endured them until his death only by God’s grace.  Ah, and in my Shakespearean voice, there’s the rub.

Those things that God allows into our lives to test us can only be endured by a measure of grace that He gives at the same time.  In a very twisted sense, it’s tantamount to saying I’m going to cut up your arm but I’m leaving you with a year’s supply of bandages and Neosporin so you can treat the wound until it heals. In that light it sounds a bit cruel and not very God-like.  But these lessons have a purpose in bringing out a level of maturity and stability that can only come from a continual determination to keep getting up when you keep getting knocked down. That said, if I were to be completely honest, I sometimes wish God would just grant me a passing grade instead of driving me to acing the test. But that’s not my call.  Apparently He sees things in each of us that when refined, can be useful for His purpose, one we may or may not ever fully know.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a single sincere prayer could stop a leak like flex-tape, that whatever comes our way we could just say the magic prayer, quote the scripture du jour of the day and sprinkle a little faith so we could have fuller cups?  But and alas, God doesn’t work like that.  He sent His own Son into the desert for 40 days for a 3 year ministry.  Do the math-we will have trials of every kind!  But as Paul learned, God’s grace is truly sufficient.  It is the only leak stopper at our disposal and has been proven effective in studies for over two thousand years now. So if your cup truly runneth over, please say a prayer for us who have sprung leaks until such time as we can all be sopping wet and giddy from all the over-flowing spills from our respective cups of blessing.  Peace.

my soul cries out

 

Making Your Way Through a Blackout

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Today I ventured out to a popular mall on the Las Vegas Strip.  Upon my ascent up the escalator to the main entry hall I was met by a lady who seemed frantic as she explained to me that there was no power anywhere in the mall.  I tried to assure her that these sometime occur here and not to worry as I maneuvered into the main corridor.  Well, she was right.  There were no lights, the restaurants stopped all service, the stores had the roll cages pulled down for security and you would think we were there after hours by mistake.

I couldn’t help but notice the people seemingly lost.  Some paced back and forth nervously, others just sat quietly in the darkness and still others had their noses pressed against the store front windows as if they might see something if they looked intently enough. For a bunch of tourists on vacation, it was a very somber mood, almost like a zombie apocalypse movie.

Rather than sit with them I decided to walk the halls just to keep moving.  There was a heavy security presence at every turn guarding stores and merchandise. The fountains were silent as I rounded another corner but still I walked.  And then, a store with power, and another followed by others.  Turning another corner it was clear that this part of the mall had power and was fully functioning with food being served and cashiers ringing up sales.  Only half of the mall was without power but I would have never discovered that had I simply sat in the darkness with the others.  And all those who sat there this afternoon may be under the impression that the whole mall was dark because they never ventured out to discover otherwise.

That’s a bit the story of my life this past year.  Many of the things that brought light into my world have been removed leaving the feeling of navigating through darkness.  Perhaps you are reading this and can relate.  And like those people in the mall the tendency is to just sit and wait out the darkness or to feel helpless that there are no source of light anywhere within your immediate view. I can freely admit that at times I stopped moving and just stood there wondering what’s next, do I keep moving or just fade into the background.  When you are exposed to prolonged darkness it becomes a familiar place if not a familiar friend, almost comforting if that makes any sense.

But with time you learn that your surroundings or circumstances may never change, and your only recourse is to change your location, that is keep moving.  A popular Psalm says “even when I walk through the valley of shadows…”.  Its a journey that compels us forward even when we sense little direction, motivation or benefit for doing so.  And it’s a path that we truly never travel alone even though the isolation is at times overwhelming.

I’m so glad I kept walking through the dark halls of that mall today to the well-lit portion full of lively people enjoying their day.  It was one of those “a-ha” moments, a real life lesson.