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

13254417_10206476537580238_4332518217867690323_n

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

campaign-official-sentenced-for-making-false-statements-33981.html_-1

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