I Still Grieve (But I Understand Grace)

‘Who gathered this flower?’ The gardener answered, ‘The Master.’ And his fellow servant held his peace.”

It was November 13th, in the year of our Lord 1999, was unlike any day I have ever experienced. A beating with a baseball bat would seem preferable. On this cold afternoon, hell was unleashed on my wife and me. What we encountered was soul-wrenching and profoundly tragic.

Perhaps a parent’s worst nightmare is the loss of a child. On this day we lost Elizabeth Grace. She was stillborn, which is rare these days– or so I have been told. She entered this world fully formed, a beautiful baby girl. Today, she would have been 24 years old, and maybe married, planning a family of her own?

“But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:23, (When David’s newborn son died.)

Our loss was grievous, but we are not unique.

Plenty of families have suddenly lost a child. I can truly commiserate with them. Somehow we are connected in a perverse way. It seems like an exclusive club, that requires a secret handshake, or something. Suddenly without warning, you are thrown into personal chaos, and very little is remotely decipherable, even to a believer.

The book of Ecclesiastes that there is a definite “time to mourn.”  Matthew tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn.” He does go on to say. “for they shall be comforted.” This comfort is available for any who chooses to take it, but you can refuse it if you really want to.

Grief unites us all, but Jesus loves us infinitely.

I can’t imagine meeting life without his care and comfort. He has been outstandingly gracious to this family. Sure there was pain, but there was also tenderness and a kind grace. Still, sometimes it may have felt like a “kick in the head.” (But I assure you– it was grace.)

What I still can’t understand is simply this. What would it have cost God to allow Elisabeth to live? I mean, what ‘skin off His nose’ would’ve it taken to let her live? To this day I still have questions, but I have decided to trust. (I trust Him after all, to save my soul.)

Those who have suffered will comprehend and grasp, the noxious environment of grief and loss.

But we can only take what we are dealt. The sadness is there, but so is His comfort. Make no mistake, His love matches (and even exceeds) the pain and the loss of a child. Truly, God is wonderful and He is good.

I do know that He loves me, a weirdly rascalish, struggling disciple. He holds me close to His precious heart, and I will have no other gods except Him. I will not take up umbrage with Him on this. But I must believe that someday soon, I will truly and completely understand this.

Lynn and I celebrate her birthday every year.

 

Haight/Ashbury, San Francisco

Learning how to forgive

Once I was punched in the face while preaching. At the time I was an evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.

Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.

Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.

That message seemed appropriate for this place, especially on this street. God loves these people very much.

A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.

His punch however came unexpectedly.

His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.

The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.

One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.

About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.

The Father was reaching him while teaching me!

God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16

I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.

At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

     John Stott

When You Need to Cover Nakedness

“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.

Exodus 20:26

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

1 Peter 4:8

While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle.  Living in Christian community is a really wonderful thing.  But it also could be a challenge at times.  What Michael shared, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.

The principle is this:  

We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.

 Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame.  It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else.  It also carries the idea of sin; it is sin that everyone can see; it is very obvious.

For those of us who often sin, we evolve the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive with it.  There will be people who will never know.  Often sex sin, drug and alcohol sin, both are kept hidden from view of family and friends, and the Church.

Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9

“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father.”

“They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  

Genesis 9:20-24

It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin. 

However in all fairness Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble.  They would never, ever dream of making a scandal.  They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.

Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness.

We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.

Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see.  But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield.  They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word.  They cover-up, but never in negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)

Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. 

Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses.  Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.  They will refuse to judge or point out sins.  But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.

God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,

“My advice to you is to buy pure gold from me, gold purified by fire—only then will you truly be rich. And to purchase from me white garments, clean and pure, so you won’t be naked and ashamed; and to get medicine from me to heal your eyes and give you back your sight.”

*bry-signat (1)

Go Lower Yet

footwashing

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

John 13:14

Some Christians reading this part of scripture, have concluded that foot washing should be part of the Churches customary routine.  Their case is compelling, and they may be right in their interpretation.  There is as much support for this as with other things, and Lord knows we could use the humility by getting on your knees with a basin and towel before a brother. 

It probably would relieve issues between saints. It may even heal Church splits. (Oh my!)

Jesus pronounced that His act of service was to be imitated by everyone who would follow.  He further would assert that His example would be emulated by every believer that followed after Him.  Our service to our brother, or sister is to help them become clean Christians. 

We have this ministry of the basin and towel to remove the dirt and filth that comes from walking in this world.  Of course, we cannot remove sins.  But we can serve as Jesus would and intervene with His power.

Cleansing people we encounter will be a demanding challenge. 

It will call us to strip our lives down to a minimum, and to get lower.  We need to get so low that we’re on the floor.  This requires much grace and discipline.  We must weed out every pretense and pride–especially the kind that says, “Look at me serving; am I not wonderful?  I am a true disciple now.”  We are to shake off thoughts like that. 

We are to love others, and perhaps be honestly brutal on ourselves. (Not in a morbid way, just less of ‘yourself.’)

While in my first year of Bible college, I developed a bitter dislike for a classmate.  He had been a lead guitarist; he was handsome and popular, and he oozed pride from every pore (at least I could see it).  I actually took it on myself to be God’s hand in humbling him.  I became antagonistic and scorned him every chance I could.

Within days, my prayer life shut down, the heavens became brass.  One day I was praying and the Holy Spirit graciously zapped me.  I became aware of my sin toward my brother, and I repented. There was a real definite leading, to find a basin and a towel, and then to wash his feet.

God reconciled us, as I kneeled at his feet in that dorm room.  From that point on we became very good friends.

We must go lower still.   Water always finds the lowest point, were it pools and gathers into the place of healing others. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will not lead us ‘deeper’ until we start practicing true humility.

When we lower ourselves even deeper we find His presence waiting for us.  But we must cleanse our own hands first, and His blood must work its ministry on me. It’s then I can proceed to clean the filth off of their feet.  If I am not clean myself I will only perpetuate the dirt on to my brother with my dirty hands.

We must scrub our way into the heart of our sister and brother with a basin and towel. 

The challenge for us will be a super-challenge.  Christlikeness will always demand this humble grace.  When we think about being like Jesus we must make sure we are following the Jesus in the Bible.  The Jesus who washed dirty feet as a slave.

Let us not have any foolish nonsense of a discipleship that doesn’t kneel before our brothers in humility.

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