The Last Picture Isn’t the Last Word: Grieving with Hope

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This is the last picture I will ever take with my oldest daughter, Lindsey. But the last picture isn’t the last word, because both of us gave our lives to Jesus Christ. This isn’t a hope I have, it is a fact I know with certainty- the same way I know the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow.

Early one morning a few weeks ago, I answered the phone. When I heard the woman identify herself as the Houston medical examiner, I began to sob. Over my cries, I heard the dreadful words: our daughter, Lindsey, had been killed in a terrible motorcycle accident.

One of my sons heard my cries, and came downstairs. He hugged me, and we sobbed together for awhile, before waking the other children and breaking the news to them. My husband, Dennis, was at work. There was no way I could tell him on the phone, so my son drove me to his office. During the forty minutes there, I prayed, desperately dreading to tell Dennis. How could I watch his heart break the way mine was broken?

That day was the most awful day we’ve had to live through, yet there were arrangements to be made to get our family to Houston. I kept moving from task to task numbly throughout the day, stopping to cry and to beg God to change this reality and turn back time. I was so mad at my daughter for getting on a motorcycle, something I’d plead with her over and over not to do. Finally, I decided to go walk along the water by our  house. I ignored the thought to take my cell phone with me, and began walking down the long flight of wooden stairs praying out loud. I almost reached the last step and I began to declare my acknowledgement that God is the One who gives and takes away and I was going to bless His name even through this loss. Then I fell off the last step.

Hot pain shot through my foot, and I fell to the ground. I knew right away it was bad and I couldn’t help but cry out, “Why, God? Really!?” Managing to crawl up the steps, I made my way back into the house. Although we only had three hours until we had to be at the airport, my husband was convinced I’d better have a doctor see my foot before we left. We got to an urgent care and my foot was quickly x-rayed. Sure enough, it was broken. I dreaded sitting squished in an airplane for hours with no way to put my foot up, but determined to not complain. In light of everything else, it didn’t matter.

So, the Lord’s ministry to me during this trial began with a broken foot.

Once we got to the airport, my husband and children carried all the bags while I tried to hobble on crutches. Thankfully, a wheelchair just “happened” to be waiting by the entrance. I sank into it gratefully. We got to the gate, and talked to the representative behind the counter. She told usI couldn’t sit in the seats they’d given us, because they were on the exit row, and with a broken foot, I definitely couldn’t give anyone assistance. I sat in a wheelchair for about twenty minutes before the airline representative came over to us and said she’d upgraded my husband and me to first class. I was able to stretch my broken foot out and even sleep for a while, cuddled next to my husband.

People couldn’t see my broken heart, but they were kind towards me because of my broken foot.

Over the next week, as we prepared for Lindsey’s memorial service, there were many instances of God’s kindness and goodness to us. Dennis and I were touched by every one of them. Friends and family came from far away, and helped with the difficult task of packing up her apartment, of setting up the memorial service, and sharing their love and grief with us. There were moments of intense sorrow, and holy grace.

I’m not surprised by the Lord’s care and provision, because I’ve experienced it for over 30 years. He is faithful and true to keep every one of His promises to us.

Through the pain and sorrow of my grief, I see His mercy and grace are even greater than I knew before.

I have every expectation that there will be joy born out of this pain, that some of those who loved Lindsey will come to know the Savior, and that some who know Him and who play in the world’s emptiness will turn back. Even in my pain, I’m sure that there are a myriad of good reasons and purposes I don’t see, but my heavenly Father does. I’m grateful for the good foundation of truth that the Lord has built in my life-often through other trials. From that foundation, the Holy Spirit pulled truth and applied it to my heart in the days when I couldn’t even open my Bible. I’m grateful that my daughter’s salvation didn’t depend on her worthiness of it, but on the worthiness of Jesus. He suffered more greatly than any one of us, as He bore our sins on the cross. Because He lives, I know that she only experienced death as a shadow with Him at her side. Because He lives, I know that every day draws me closer to the day I can see her sweet smile and hear her delightful laughter.

This morning I read a letter a pastor named Samuel Rutherford wrote to a grieving mother in the 1600’s. The wording was so old, that I rewrote it in a more modern phrasing:

“You have lost a child; no, she isn’t lost to you, because she was found by Jesus. She isn’t sent away, but only sent before, like a star which vanishes from our sight, but is shining in another hemisphere.”

Because of the joy set before me as a follower of Jesus Christ, for the love of Him who is God over all, in my grief I also hold onto the abundant love and grace of God. For me, the challenge isn’t to lose hope in those truths within the Scripture, but to allow His truth to mingle with my sorrow-to grieve well, like one who does have hope.

“Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who are without hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him…”

~1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

 

False Teaching Is Like Whole Language

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False teaching is like Whole Language-neither one leads to the outcome it promises.

As a teacher, I have a few things that really spin me up. One of them is “Whole Language.” I remember all too well how a whole classroom of first graders began and ended the school year with no advancement in their reading abilities because I was forbidden to teach them phonics. If a student came into my classroom in September unable to read, they left in June unable to read.

That was the last year I taught in a public school. How terrible to handicap children! To limit the ability to decode words is to limit vocabulary. Limit vocabulary, and you limit a person’s ability to communicate thought. It makes me so frustrated to meet adults who have to figure out ways to cope with their limited abilities when it comes to reading.

I have that same kind of response to those who misuse the Bible and the Christian faith. Ultimately, each Christian is responsible to be in the Word and check out what others tell us about Jesus and life in its pages. That’s part of being a faithful follower of Jesus. However, children and new believers don’t have enough maturity to detect false teaching. They haven’t had a chance to grow in discernment.

We live in a culture and time where false teachers abound. There are many celebrity pastors, some  of them faithful to the Bible, but others who seem to be unfamiliar with that particular book. They pull verses out of context, make radical, even unbiblical pronouncements. Some false teachers are clearly false, but there are others whose twisting of Scripture is subtle.

Why does it matter?

Because we end up with people who have a distorted view of God. When they don’t get rich, when their loved one isn’t healed, their faith is shattered. They think Christianity didn’t work, while what they were following was only a poor imitation of the Gospel proclaimed to them by people motivated by fortune and fame.

It makes me disgusted to see time, and money, and opportunity for the Gospel wasted. It saddens and frustrates me to meet people whose view of God is distorted by false teaching. It’s like Whole Language and reading. Limit a disciple’s understanding of Scripture, you limit their understanding of who they are as a new creation in Christ. Distort their doctrine, or don’t teach them doctrine, and you keep them from becoming effective ambassadors of Jesus to this world. It isn’t hard to see who came up with that scheme.

We’re warned in Scripture that there have been and will be false teachers. We’re even told where they come from: within the church. Forewarned ought to be forearmed.

There is a saying, “eat the meat and spit out the bones” that’s often used regarding Christian teaching. I don’t see that born out in Scripture. False teachers are adept at mixing truth with error in subtle ways. Jesus condemned the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2 for tolerating that kind of mixture. Reading His words gives us a clear picture of how He views such distortion:

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads my bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols…Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of her deeds.” Revelation 2: 20, 22

So what are we to do?

1. We have a responsibility to know the truth ourselves!

Much like the US Secret Service is taught to identify counterfeit money by studying real bills, the believer is responsible to check out what’s being taught with the Bible. We’re given the perfect example of that in the book of Acts with the people of Berea:

“These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11

It doesn’t sound like they were spiting out bones, but testing the validity of all they were being taught!

Jesus tells us that we will know these false prophets by their fruits. We do that by not judging according to appearance, but by righteous judgment (John 7:24). We do this by evaluating what is being taught in light of Scripture-just like the Bereans in the book of Acts.

2. We have a responsibility to warn others!

Believe it or not, the warnings against false doctrine are emphasized more than any other warning in the New Testament. Jesus warned about false teachers being like wolves in sheep’s clothing. He warned his disciples about being mislead. Peter devoted most of 2 Peter to warn against false teachers. Almost the whole short letter of Jude is warning of false teachers. John and Paul both repeatedly warned about men who would come into the church speaking perverse things to draw people away. They named names.

Here’s where you’re going to run into resistance. So much of the culture has seeped into the church that the typical response you’ll get from false teachers and their followers is that you’re judging. You’ll be called critical, “Biblicists,” or haters. Ironically, you’ll more than likely be judged and criticized for protesting the unbiblical teaching.

This kind of tolerance is not a virtue!

The Bible teaches us to test what’s taught and to mark out and avoid false teaching.¹We must scrutinize what is taught in light of the standards of Scripture. When something has been taught publicly, it has to be dealt with publicly as well. That has to be done in a manner consistent with the Bible’s ethics. We’re to judge with sound judgment, speaking the truth in love.²

It is possible to love someone and to tell them that they’re wrong. We’re wrong if we refrain from speaking the truth because we’re afraid of being called harsh things, or if we speak the truth without love and compassion. It is possible to speak the truth in love:

“…we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” Ephesians 4:14-15

How loving is it to let someone you know follow false teaching and not warn them? 

¹ “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 “Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Stay away from them.” Romans 16:17
2 “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” John 7:24

Prayer is Responding to God’s Truth in Faith

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There are many statements in the Bible that inspire, comfort or challenge me, but there are two which startle me, one in the Old Testament and one in the New.

The first one is Isaiah 59:16. It says God was astonished. That’s incredible! It’s not that He was surprised, He’s omniscient, all-knowing. He was astonished, because there was no one, no one at all, who would intercede in prayer for the nation of Israel.

In the Gospels, Jesus wondered at the unbelief of the people of Nazareth. He was limited in what He could do there, no miracles except healing a few people, because they did not believe in Him.

When we’re in Heaven, how many of us will be astonished and wonder that we did not take and use one of the greatest gifts we have been given? Prayer is that gift. Prayer is taking the truth God has told us and responding to it in faith.

John records Jesus’ talk to His disciples, and to us, on the night before He died. Some of the sweetest promises and teachings in Scripture are found there. Have you ever read His last teaching before Calvary? Jesus invites His disciples to pray seven times. Seven times!

If you peruse those chapters, you will see how eager Jesus is that we take this treasure, how He yearns to bless us through it, to give us joy, to give us “according to the riches of His glory.”

When Scripture says something once, it’s important. If it’s repeated two or three times, pay attention. But seven times? Surely that’s something we need to take to heart! Prayer is important. It’s how we communicate with our heavenly Father. It’s how we thank Him, how we confess our sin and unburden ourselves, how we praise God and worship Him, and how we ask Him for the things we need and want.

If you read the Bible, you cannot help but see that we live in a world embroiled in a spiritual war. While prayer is a spiritual weapon, it’s also the one thing that girds together and empowers all of the other spiritual weapons.

Prayer is essential for us to live victorious lives.

 

I’ve heard this analogy made about those who have put their hope in Jesus Christ:

It’s like a man who’s inherited land. He goes out to claim his inheritance, and moves onto the land, builds a home there and enjoys it greatly. But there is a neighbor nearby who is an enemy. He knows that there is incredible wealth in that land, just under the surface and he doesn’t want the man he hates to have anything more than he already enjoys. So the evil neighbor does whatever it takes to keep the man from exploring or digging about and finding the treasure just under the surface of his inheritance.

I’ve been with Jesus in the “school of prayer” for decades. There’ve been times when I lived in defeat and depression. I didn’t realize that while I received my salvation by faith, that I was to live out my salvation the same way. I’d fallen into thinking legalistic thinking, and my prayers were weak cries for forgiveness for all the ways I failed to measure up. Although I knew a lot about the Bible, I had stumbled away from grace and was living in my own power. I was effectively sidelined.

Praying is fighting and we need to know two things:

what weapons are ours and who the enemy is.

 

Jesus said that when we pray, we are to ask in His name and we’ll receive. We ask on the basis of His merit, because of the perfect life He lived. That perfect life has been applied to our account. We have the very righteousness of Jesus Christ, not because of our success in living, but because of His. That means we’re always acceptable to the Father. We can enter into His presence at any time because of Jesus.

We have authority in this world, and in prayer, because we are united by faith with Jesus Christ. That authority is your inheritance, your portion. You don’t have to do anything to earn or deserve it, you received it when you trusted Christ for your salvation. Listen, “you’ve died with Christ and have been buried and raised with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and ever name that can be named.”

Every believer is positionally seated at the right hand of God on that throne with Jesus, no matter how poor, how rich, how attractive or old you are. Each of us is meant to be more than conquerors in this life-yet how few take up this gift, this blessing, this weapon!

Picture a Roman soldier dressed in the full armor of God. Imagine some huge, muscled man with all of that armor being buzzed by a fly. Wouldn’t it be incredible to see him swat at it and begin to cry? What would you think if he collapsed in tears because a fly was harassing him?

That’s where too many of us are in our lives, freaking out over things that God is ready to take care of for us, if we’ll just turn to Him in prayer and give it to Him.

Others of us aren’t freaking out, but we’re asleep. We do life, we have fun and we don’t think much about God, except on Sundays. Why do we allow ourselves to be lulled into spiritual slumber? There is a spiritual war going on and the follower of Jesus is to be like a soldier, alert and at the command of the leader.

Why do we allow ourselves to live defeated lives, when Jesus offers us an abundant life here and now? Not a life of riches, but of richness; not a life of high position, but of honor before the only One who really matters. Why do we allow ourselves to drift through life, asleep at the wheel, when we can be living a life of great excitement and joy with our Savior?

Praying is fighting. We give up too easily. We fall into the “once and done” mentality. We don’t just pray about something one time, intercede for that loved one once, or twice, or for a year even. We continue on in prayer, believing, with faith.

When someone is fighting an infection, the doctor doesn’t give one dose of antibiotic and leave the patient to heal on his own. He continues on with the treatment. The reason why we don’t see more answers to prayer, is that when we meet with obstacles or we don’t see answers right away, we become discouraged and quit praying.

Expect to meet obstacles. The Bible says that our struggle, our wrestling, is with the rulers and powers, the world forces of this darkness, of the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Do you think you will go unchallenged when you pick up the great weapon God gave us? You will feel too tired to pray. You will have things crowd in on your thoughts as you pray, you will be tempted to doubt. You may even experience direct attacks from the enemy.

It’s not just you. Many believers over the centuries have faced the same obstacles to prayer. Continuing on with prayer despite those obstacles is called “praying through.” Praise God in your prayers, thank Him for what He has done, sing even, and you will find the obstacles will not keep you from praying and taking what God has for you.

Philip Brooks said this about the Christian and prayer:

Don’t pray for an easy life! Pray to be stronger men! Don’t pray for tasks equal to your power; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.

Take up prayer. Pray in Jesus’ name. The devil will yield only to whom he must-and he must yield to Jesus. Pray along with what’s in God’s will; what’s in His word is the place to start. Take what Jesus offers with thanks and humbleness-all that we have in Him was bought at great cost. Take up prayer with the authority you have as a child of the living God.

Jesus said that we would be able to do the things He did, and greater!

Do we believe Him-or will He wonder at our lack of faith?

What Do You Do When You Fall?

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It is such an embarrassing thing to fall, isn’t it? . .

 

The last time I fell, it was painful! I was working out at the gym with my oldest daughter, Lindsey. We were warming up by walking on treadmills. It was funny, because we’re a bit competitive at the gym, and we each kept bumping up our speed to be faster than the other. A bank of TV screens was on the wall in front of us, and as we walked, I noticed a woman on a news station with a hairstyle I really liked. So I turned to Lindsey, who is a gifted stylist, and pointed to the woman. We started talking about her cutting my hair the same way. I got so excited about the new hair style that I stopped walking to emphasize the length I wanted my hair cut. Stopping, while on a treadmill going four miles an hour, is not a good idea! The bruises and scrapes on my right leg prove it.

 

That was a public failure, and a humiliating one! Believe me, the same thing happens to me in other aspects of my life. It can happen to us spiritually. It’s one thing when our fall is in private, but another when it’s public. I wish I could tell you it never happens, but it does. What do we do about it?

 

The worst thing we can do is try to cover it up. We look foolish and demean the Savior we follow when we don’t own up to our mistakes. 1 John 1:9 tells that we need to confess our sin and that God is faithful to cleanse us. If our failure was private, then we are done. But for those public sins, we need to make a public admission of our guilt. It is hard to admit doing wrong. However, saying we acted in a manner that does not line up with who we are in Christ  frees us from the chains of guilt. It opens the door for us to make amends to those we’ve injured. When we respond to failure with humility, others often respond with grace and mercy.

 

There are examples in Scripture of those who fell into sin and tried to hide it, like Ananias and Sapphira. Their attempt to cover up public sin ended up costing them their lives. That tells me God considers my response to my sin a serious thing.

 

Scripture is clear that every one of us battles sin and there will be times we fall in that battle. When we do, it is best to remind ourselves that because of Jesus Christ, there is a way back -and take it!