Finding Hope in Times of Great Loss

hope in Christ

None of us are shielded from unexpected events that rattle our lives like an erupting volcano or a major earthquake.  The strongest among us can be brought to our knees when faced with certain life events or painful losses-the loss of a child, the loss of a home, the loss of a job or a business, the loss of a spouse due to death or divorce.  All of us will eventually face one or more of these events or know of some who have and can bear witness to the long term damaging effects it can have on an individual’s attitude, their outlook on the future and their quality of life.  And all of us who have already been visited by any of these can attest to the resulting sense of hopelessness and isolation.

Besides the obvious impact these losses or changes can have on the emotional or mental health of a person, these events can also alter the physical health as well.  In 1967 two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of more than 5000 patients to see if there was any correlation between some life events and eventual major illness.  Their findings have been confirmed by subsequent independent studies and the results are the same, and not at all surprising.  Based on their data they developed the famous Holmes and Rahe Scale, used to determine the chances of a person suffering major illnesses in the future.  Each event was given a numerical value in line with the severity of the event.  Here is what the scale looks like with events and numeric values listed:

Holmes-Rahe-Stress-Inventory

When you begin to take inventory and add up the numbers, especially if you are older, the results can be scary in light of the rating scale based on your score. The things that happen in our lives have a measurable impact on our mental and physical health-there is simply no disputing this.

But before you add up your score and head for your garage to start the car and close the garage door, take heart-there is a disclaimer!  These studies are based on the normal conditions and responses of the normal person.  There is no allowance or consideration given for the person who has overcome or survived these events due to the hope they have through their faith in Christ. Upon our conversion we are promised that we become “new” creatures, that is with clean slates, having all old things and events “pass away”.  That is certainly not to say we don’t suffer the same pain or agony when faced with any of these major life-changing events-we do, believe me. However it is to say that we have the promise and the assurance, the Hope that even though we walk through these dark places (not over or around as some suggest) that God is with us to provide comfort and courage and strength to endure.  We may not sense His presence during these trials in life but we rely on the knowledge through the Holy Spirit that His word is true and that He is faithful and completely incapable of breaking His promise or His covenant with us when we need Him the most. The great disclaimer to the Holmes Rahe Scale is Christ. He is or can be the great equalizer to those with high risk factors and scale totals-He is the unaccounted for variant in the numeric scale.  You may score high, but Christ…

Holy Scriptures are alive with resounding promises of hope, too many to list.

You may have lost a loved one but you can “lie down and sleep and wake again because the Lord sustains you”. You may have lost a job or a business but “you have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for food”. You may feel abandoned or that God has overlooked you, but in your heart you remember “Has he said and will He not do it or has He spoken and will not fulfill it?”  You may have lost the person closest to you but you can hold fast to the words “Fear not, I’m with you; don’t be dismayed for I’m your God and will strengthen you and hold you steady with my righteous right hand.”

Some of us have faced the events measured on this scale more than once. In fact if not for the disclaimer mentioned some of us may not have lived to tell about it.  But hope is like a skin graft that offers immediate healing and comfort and eventually manifests itself in new growth so that hardly a scar remains.  And by the way, these aren’t just shallow words but first hand testimony that is continuing to be rewritten.  I added up my scores, assuming just one time per episode although I have faced several of these events more than once.  My score….931!  But Christ.

 

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The Hope That Heals All Christmas Pain

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Its almost time for Christmas, one of the holiest days of the year

The world for a moment stops spinning to send tidings of love and cheer

But for some this day’s a challenge as they try to find some gladness

For each one has a story that for them gives way to sadness

Seems everywhere they cast their glance they’re reminded of the reasons

Why they just can’t find the simple joy of this yearly Holy season

For some a dated ornament, the first Christmas spent together

A love to last the storms of life the two of them would weather

But one storm showed no mercy as it tore the two apart

Leaving nothing good of Christmas and instead, a broken heart

For others there’s and empty chair a loved one used to fill

Though gone, they’re not forgotten and their seat is empty still

They spent their lives united, gave their all to one another

But failing health and extended years claimed one but left the other

Some approach the season just a few weeks unemployed

And find it hard to celebrate being robbed of all their joy

They can’t afford the usual gifts that bring their children laughter

Feeling like they’ve failed again with no prospect of work hereafter

While for some there sits a present wrapped in true anticipation

Of the joy when finally opened at the family’s celebration

But something unexpected, a life so quickly taken

Leaves a family asking questions and the day completely shaken

There’s bitterness and anger as we wrestle with God’s purpose

Trying hard to hide the obvious pain that lies beneath the surface

Why now, why me, what good can come from allowing us these tests

And how do we now reconcile that God still knows what’s best

Yet, in the corner, hardly noticed, a nativity scene displayed

In the center lies the Child of peace, born that Christmas day

His entrance ushered hope and peace for all who would believe

A hope that heals the deepest wounds when to Him we humbly cleave

He understands how hard it is for some to find their cheer

And offers us eternal hope that will last beyond our tears

The cure for all that ails us entered earth that Christmas night

It’s His hope that brings a lasting peace and His love that sets things right

It heals all wounds, fills all voids, brings comfort to ease our pain

And chases tears and sorrows so that love alone remains

We all have things we’d wish to change to make our lives more pleasant

And questions we would pose to God if He stood within our presence

But He knew our pains before our birth and addressed them from above

When He sent His Son to heal all hurts in the ultimate show of love

So we’ll gather on this Christmas day to commemorate His birth

The Christ child come to soothe our pain, the greatest cure on earth

It comforts loss and covers scars if we’ll but humbly kneel

To worship Him who heals our hearts with a peace we each can feel.

 

True Relics, True Gospel, Changed Lives

Timios_Stayros

 

This post may be summarily dismissed by many Protestants who don’t accept, acknowledge or understand the existence of historic Christian relics or the miracles attributed to them.  Relics are simply the remains of saints, i.e. bones, hair, skin, etc., or items closely associated with them or that may have come in contact with them.  There has always been a reluctance in the Western church to acknowledge or venerate these relics for fear that they would somehow be guilty of their misunderstanding of the constitution of idolatry. However for us to dismiss the stories and the miracles reported in association with some of these relics is to dismiss portions of Holy scripture in both Old and New Testaments that document similar miracles. Consider as a basis of Biblical support the following verses:

2Kings 13:20-21  Elisha died and was buried.  At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year.  Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band.  So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off.  But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet. 

Matthew 9:20   Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, 21 for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”

Acts 19:11-12  So extraordinary were the mighty deeds GOD accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Upon reading these passages it would be intellectually dishonest to deny that God released His power indirectly through dead bones, clothing, personal items and even shadows. The items listed were never the object of worship. They were used to show that with God nothing is impossible and not everything is explainable.

The stories of miracles associated with relics are countless and can easily be researched for study by anyone with internet access.  One miracle involves the death of St. Nectarios.

On September 20, 1920 one of the nuns took him to the local hospital, in spite of his protest. He was convulsing in pain from a long-standing ailment. He was admitted, and placed into a ward reserved for the poor and unwanted. There he stayed for two months among the sick and dying. At 10:30 in the evening of November 8th, although in the midst of terrible pains, in peace and at prayer he gave up his spirit unto God at the age of 74. As soon as the Saint gave up his Spirit, a nurse came to prepare him for transfer to Aegina for burial. As the nurse removed the Saints sweater, she inadvertently placed it on the next bed, on which a paralytic lay. And O, strange wonder!, the paralytic immediately began to regain his strength and arose from his bed healthy, and glorifying God.

The oil from the sacred lamp of St. Nectarios continues to be used for anointing with resulting healing reported frequently.

Another of my favorite relic stories involves the discovery of the cross of our Savior, referred to in research as the True Cross. St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, is said to have discovered three wooden crosses under a pagan shrine that had been built on the site of Golgotha. She ordered the shrine to be leveled and was led to the spot by a man in Jerusalem claiming to know the burial place of the crosses. Upon the discovery it was not clear which one was the cross of Christ, so a Bishop who was with her suggested they bring a lady from the city who was known to be critically ill.  Upon the lady’s exposure to the True Cross she was immediately healed.

Other stories are associated with those who possess just small pieces of the True Cross, like this one of Fr. Stavros. When Fr. Stavros was young, he accidentally fell from a height, and his injuries were so great that even the doctor acknowledged that he had died. Everyone was preparing for his burial, at which point his mother remembered the Precious Cross that was in her possession, and she crossed him. A few hours later, he was brought back to life. Fr. Stavros is now in possession of this relic of the True Cross and continues to witness miracles as a result. When Fr. Stavros or another priest places the Cross on the bare skin of a sick person, it adheres or sticks like a magnet where there is sickness or illness.  When the person is healed, or when the sick person is about to have an operation which will heal the person, it no longer sticks to them.  Here is another reported miracle of this particular relic. When Fr. Stavros brought the True Cross to the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Wisconsin, Many sick people came seeking healing. One of these was a Native-America woman with a large, malignant tumor on her chest. With fear and faith she approached and was blessed with the Cross, and a few days later, her tumor had totally disappeared.

As you might expect any sacred items that people seek out for various reasons become prime targets for forgery for profit. You can buy your very own piece of the True Cross on various Ebay stores today for $9.99. Many medieval merchants brought back wood from the Middle East and passed it off as True Cross relics. CNN has documented cases where carbon dating on certain acclaimed relics, including the supposed finger of john the Baptist, cast heavy doubt on their authenticity.  So what, if anything, is the true measure of the authenticity of a relic? It’s actually quite simple.  Those who come in contact with it and release their faith are changed. The lady who touched the robe of Jesus was healed by her faith response.  Those who wanted to be in the path of Peter’s shadow were healed by their faith response. Those seeking miracles at the exposure to Christian relics are healed through their faith response.  False relics do not result in dramatic changes.

There is a direct correlation to be made between true relics and the true Gospel. From the day the Gospel was first preached lives were changed and miracles were performed. People heard of the healing and redemptive powers of the message being delivered and they journeyed for days to hear, to see and believe. The early church grew quickly and in great numbers because of people’s faith response to the true Gospel. And at the same time and even so today there are a myriad of false or forgery gospels being preached, and yes many of them just for profit. Many modern day evangelists are being exposed for teachings that are contrary to the Gospel.

Galatians 1:8 – Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.

So what is our measure for the authenticity of the Gospel? Just as with relics, no one can come in contact with it and not be forever changed. And herein lies the beauty of the True and authentic Gospel; you don’t need the capacity to understand the entire Gospel in order for transformation to begin. The Holy Spirit of God can pierce the soul with a single verse!  That may not sell well in some evangelic churches today. But who among even the mature and life-long students of the Word can claim to grasp in full the context or the mysteries of the Gospel or expound upon the message of God’s grace and mercy with the finite capacity that is the human mind?  While we are exhorted to study and rightly divide the Word, none of us have to score 100% to ascribe to the benefits hidden therein.  The life altering transformation of our spirit can begin with the initial exposure to just a fragment of the Gospel, just as those who are healed at the release of their faith and exposure to just a fragment of a relic.

If you want to know if an evangelist is authentic or a forgery, look at their fruit.  Are lives made better?  Is Christ glorified? Is the integrity of the Holy Scriptures maintained? Jesus said a bad tree can’t produce good fruit and a good tree can’t produce bad fruit. Our great commission as followers of Christ and representatives of the true Gospel is to be vessels of change ourselves and in our lives and conduct, share that change with others-to become individual relics of the life-changing Gospel of Christ for a world seeking even the smallest fragment of hope so that their faith response to our relic of grace may manifest a miraculous and eternal change in their lives.

Racial Harmony in a World Out of Tune

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble-l Peter 3:8

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Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

These are the lyrics to a song written and performed by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder many years ago.  Black and white keys on a keyboard being played together to create amazing sounds and beautiful music not possible if any of the keys were missing.  Sounds like a simplistic approach to the races living together in love, even naive given the recent events making news headlines.  Is racial harmony attainable in our society or are there powers at work to keep us at odds with each other, trapped in the sins of our past?  I wish I knew the answer.

Let us not beat around the bush.  Two weeks ago in Ferguson, MO a black and unarmed youth was shot and killed by a white police officer during an arrest.  While we are still waiting for the facts to come out, we know from the autopsy report that the youth was shot six times resulting in his death.  Not long before that a white officer applied a rear choke hold to a black man, who stated several times that he couldn’t breathe.  The man died of asphyxiation. And in a case in Texas a man with his hands cuffed behind him allegedly shot and killed himself in the chest while in the back seat of a patrol car.  I am in now way attempting to jump on the “white police are looking for black men to shoot” band wagon message being marketed as common practice.  Being a graduate of the local citizens police academy I have much respect for the police department at large who risk their lives everyday and have the right to return to their families at the end of their shifts.  But when these incidents happen, as isolated or exploited by the media as they might be, they serve to open up old wounds that in all honesty, never healed.  And even those who are siblings in our Lord tend to get caught up in the momentum and the new life breathed into the social demons of hate and bigotry.  It’s a cycle that is like a True Blood vampire-it just won’t die!  How do we love our neighbor and promote peace in ignorance of racial history?

In Luke Jesus tells a parable about the man we refer to as the Good Samaritan;

Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan was not only a hated man by most Jews but he was also of a different race.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known as The Way of the Blood due to its history of robberies and murders.  Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife traveled this road when they were in the Holy Land.  I love MLK’s synopsis of the travelers.  The first two upon approaching the man in distress must have thought to themselves, “what will happen to me if I assist this man“, while the Samaritan thought ” what will happen to this man if I don’t assist“.  Jesus had just stated that we should love our neighbors and used this story to show that brotherly love extends beyond the races.

I am a white man.  I was born that way.  Many parts of my character and preferences are more black than white but that’s another blog.  But even I have been criticized by many of my black brothers of  “not understanding” or being to white to get it.  My genuinely good intentions of trying to insert Christian love into the solution and response has been summarily dismissed as a “just get over it” attitude, not my personal stance at all.  I firmly believe that when Christians perceive injustices they have not only a right but an obligation to acknowledge and address them, just not in the same way as the hate mongers given our national spotlights do.  In the widely accepted “Love Chapter”, l Corinthians,  it is stated “…love barely notices when it is wronged“.  I know how tall an order that is to the parents of a youth unjustly shot by an officer, or another the victim of a terrible rape or murder.  The indignation that is the human spirit trumps the divine nature of Christ that should be indwelling us at all times.  Our response is always “yes, but”.  Loving our neighbors and those who persecute us is not turning a blind eye, as I have been accused of, but rising above the existence of hate.  Even scripture tells us that if we only love those who love us, how are we different than the world.  Applying Christian love in situations of hate does not mean we don’t peacefully protest, it does not keep us from seeking justice for all, and it does not render us inactive in seeking resolutions to social ills.  However it does compel us to approach these issues with the mind of Christ as His disciples and as a voice of reason and compassion, seeking restoration, not chronicling all history’s sins against mankind and pouring salt in the wounds.

It is high time that the leaders in the church, black and white, come together and raise their voices in harmony against injustice at every level and set the example on a national platform visible to all, tackle the tough and obvious questions, identify the ugly beast and raise the standard of peace as Christian brothers and sisters who are not of this world, and by doing so draw attention to the ultimate peace keeper, Jesus Christ.   I am convinced with all my heart that there is an attainable solution to this once all parties agree to come together, “forgetting what is past and pressing on” to acquire harmony and balance in our earthly domain as we prepare for and wait in eager anticipation of our Heavenly kingdom and reward.  At the throne of judgment there will be sheep and goats.  I wonder if there will also be peacekeepers and and war mongers.  Label me as you will-I will use what little influence I have for peace and pray every day that I will see it manifested in my world.