Lost Sons

“I’m sorry but we’ve pronounced your son dead.” 

Those are the crushing words my friend Rex heard from the doctors after his infant son Kenny had stopped breathing.  In that stunning moment, he and his family experienced a devastating loss that changed their lives forever. 

Rex writes about this experience in the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE: GUIDANCE FOR THE BROKEN.  I can identify with Rex’s loss, and maybe some of you can too. He is a minister of the Gospel, and you can bet that he wrestled with his faith during this terrible experience.

Through believing in Jesus, we are assured of eternal life. My son Kenny would not be dead forever. I would see him again one day because of Jesus. That faith helped me survive...”

As I read through Rex’s chapter I see so much of my own journey there in his words. His faith helped him survive, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t giant struggles in his own heart.

…Feeling that he had failed his son

…Questions about why God allowed this to happen

…Wondering why other people’s children experienced healing and Kenny didn’t

As if those questions weren’t weighty enough, not long after this loss another loss rocked their family as well.  As Rex reflected on these losses and the impact they had on his faith and his family, he came to a new understanding of God’s work in his life. 

Before we are faced with significant loss or crisis, we often have a view of God that is genuine but incomplete. We haven’t had to rely on him through traumatic losses that have no real answer. We haven’t had to put one foot in front of the other not knowing if some other terrible thing is about to happen. The truth is that we would be content to stay in that place. But when we don’t have a choice we do gain a new understanding of God’s place in our lives.

“In the fifteen years since Laura and I lost Kenny, I’ve learned something of God’s heart that I didn’t know before. With all the brokenness that has marred God’s creation, I see how God is filled with loving mercy and compassion for those who suffer.”

What I love about the way Rex writes about his loss is that it’s just honest. It’s not demanding that you see things the way he does. He just wants to share his experience and hopes that somewhere in there you can find some hope. I appreciate that spirit. 

One day Rex and I and our families will be reunited with our Lost Sons. That is our sure hope.

Rex is the minister for the Newark Church of Christ (in Delaware).

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Surrendering to Hope (HERE) and read further about Rex’s journey.  Check out Rex’s blog HERE. You can follow him on Twitter (@krexbutts) and find him on Facebook. 

In the next few weeks I’m going to share some more from this excellent little book. Until then, Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading. JED

The Power of a Disappointing Story

summerblogtour

The Power of a Disappointing Story

(This is the last of a series of blog posts by some exceptional writers. I don’t know how I was invited to participate but I’m glad that I was. The last post is mine. Hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have. Thanks to Holly Barrett for the great Summer Blog Tour picture used for each of these posts! JD)

Disappointment is an experience that every one faces … and often in many varieties and shades. Sometimes disappointment comes at the hands of others, and sometimes we create it all on our own.

You know, that weight you were going to lose by now. The degree you were going to earn has somehow eluded you. The order you were hoping to establish in your daily routine escapes in the trap of too many late nights and way too early mornings. The books you wanted to write that once started remain unfinished. The commitment to write for someone else that has found you looking at an empty document, fingers stalled on the keyboard. The preacher who thought he would have been able to lead his church to greater heights.

Oh, excuse me… didn’t mean to spill MY disappointments in myself all over the place. But I bet I’m in good company.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ~W.B. Yeats

Age has a way of sneaking up on us. Health issues slow us down when we thought before that we could be active any time we wanted to. Like the addict who swears he has no problems, we blind ourselves to reality until one day when the stark reality of who we are doesn’t leave us any way out. We realize that all the things we thought we might be, well, they aren’t likely to happen.

After the crucifixion of Jesus some disciples grappled with their own disappointment. As they tried to sift through the information … he died … the women said they saw an angel who said he was alive … but we haven’t seen him … he must be dead.

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. ~ Cleopas and another Discouraged Disciple on the road to Emmaus.

How can there be any power in a disappointing story? You get to the end of the book only to find out the main character has died. Powerful? Not really. You watch all the episodes of a show that has you hooked, but in the end they just ruined the whole thing. Disappointment. Well, we may not be able to rescue fictional works that turn sour in the end, but your life is different. It’s nonfiction, no matter how crazy the details. Disappointments – great or small – can actually turn out to be a pretty powerful experience.

Sometimes out of the rubble of disappointment is a new reality you couldn’t have designed or pictured if you tried.

“Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and He has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our life. It’s hard to understand it at the time. Not one of us wants that thread when it is being woven in. Not one of us says, ‘I can hardly wait to see where this is going to fit.’ We all say at that moment, ‘This is not the pattern I want.” ~Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver

When Jesus revealed himself to the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, new light was given to their faith.

Luke 24:32-33 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Instead of continuing toward Emmaus they went to Jerusalem to join the other formerly disappointed but now ecstatic disciples.

Maybe your disappointments seem irreversible. Divorce. Financial ruin. Accused. Arrested. Abandoned. Abused. Mourning the loss of a person or even a pet … disappointment is one gut-punch we don’t just walk away from.

The one thing that never disappoints us is hope. Hope that is certain of what lies ahead. While our knowledge of God’s promises is secure, the road that we travel between here and there can be rugged. The reason hope never disappoints us is that we carry it with us through the dark streets of shame and uncertainty.

When God saved you He poured hope into your heart. Not just a little, but filled your heart up because He knew that there were going to be some real struggles along the way. If you’re disappointed, just clear out all the troubling thoughts and focus intently here:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~Romans 5:1-5

If you didn’t feel some disappointment lift, read it again. See the friendship with God expressed there? The assurances just pour out of this passage.

We are justified by faith.

We have peace with God through Jesus.

We have access to grace in which we stand.

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

We … boast … in … our … sufferings (disappointing, isn’t it, that sufferings have to enter into this passage).

People who suffer endure. Character is produced. Hope, the kind that can never disappoint us, has been given to us. Because God loves us. All in the face of suffering.

So, dear friend, when you’ve felt the pangs of disappointment, remember that your story isn’t finished yet. The hopes you had might be eclipsed by a more glorious plan that God has for you – even when it’s hard to understand.

Here’s a Prayer for the Disappointed
God so often my eyes are clouded and I can’t see the Powerful Risen Savior because the ‘facts’ of the day are staring me in my face. I am disappointed because I thought maybe You would provide for me in a different way. But in faith I affirm that You know much more about my tomorrows than I do. I know you’ll walk with me through days of glory and days of gloom. Would you bring healing and serenity to my hurting heart today? I don’t have to know all the answers. I just want to know You more. Father please remind me of the power of a disappointing story and how Your hope never disappoints. This hope, found only in your son Jesus, my Brother. Amen.

There’s No Disappointment in Heaven

11130149_10153237804557184_3623288705658994532_nJohn Dobbs is the minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to the former Margaret Willingham. They have two children. Nicole, who has provided two beautiful grandchildren. John Robert, who is deceased.

 

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Grief and Naomi and Ruth

One of the most beautiful stories ever written is found in your Old Testament under the title ‘Ruth’. It is a love story. We are even accustomed to hearing a passage from this short book used in modern weddings.

For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.

You may not have realized that this is also a study of grief and loss. In fact, the book begins with only a brief introduction of Naomi’s family before we are informed of the deaths that afflict them.

Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about 10 years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.

In this tragic circumstance, what can we learn about grief and surviving losses?

1. Grief Can Change Family Relationships. Drastic changes can take place due to placing blame, volatile exchanges, painful silence, even separation or divorce. These situations may be brief or have long lasting consequences. As each person grieves individually and in a different manner conflicts can develop. Naomi was not only grieving the loss of her husband and homeland, but two precious sons. Her ongoing relationship with her daughters-in-law says a lot about them all. (Ruth 1:7-13)

2. Tears Are An Appropriate Response to Painful Loss. At the time of the death of a loved one we should not try to hold back our tears. While some people may choose to cry only behind closed doors, others are much more demonstrative no matter the setting. But one should never feel that tears somehow betray a lack of faith or disbelief in God’s promises. I fully believe that my son is in heaven but many tears have been shed. Grief hurts. Trying not to cry is unhealthy and nonsensical.

Naomi …kissed them, and they wept loudly….  Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 

3. Faith Can Develop a Bitter Taste. When Naomi and Ruth came back to Bethlehem all of the locals were talking about the arrival of Naomi. However, Naomi asked them to call her Mara instead. Mara means ‘bitter’. Naomi said, “The Almighty has made me very bitter … the Lord has pronounced judgment on me and the Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:20-21).  Naomi’s bitterness was much like widows today. Her provider has been taken away, she had to move from her home, and there were questions about how she would even eat with no one to help take care of her. Christians who serve God wholeheartedly do not expect to have their lives turned upside down by loss, but it happens all the time. There will be seasons where we will actually blame God for not taking care of us. More, believing that God has punished us. Try to regard this as a season of turbulent faith, rather than a rejection of God. True enough, some people do reject God during a time of grief. A better path is to continue to express your pain to the Lord. He is big enough to hear your complaint and His grace is overflowing in your behalf.

4. Grief Can Be a Time of Redefining Our Purpose. After arriving back in Bethlehem Ruth begins serving Naomi by going out to gather food. Her love for her mother-in-law is observed and Boaz says to her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know. May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12) What a beautiful reflection of God’s grace came through Boaz to a grieving widow. Ruth took the experience of her own grief and turned it into a time of serving someone else who was hurting.  For a time immediately following a loss this may be impossible. However, there comes a time when the inward reflections need to be turned outward toward other hurting people. This is when healing can begin to take place. In fact, in chapter 3 and verse 1 we see Naomi beginning to open up her heart to serve loyal and faithful Ruth.

5. Watch For Blessings From the Lord. Chapter 4 of Ruth is a beautiful reflection of God’s provision for the mourning widows we first met in chapter one. Ruth was beloved by Boaz. They married and had a child.  There is no record of Naomi marrying again. Whether she did or not, however, she had traveled through a journey of pain to a place where she was able to see the blessings of the Lord. To be clear, her new blessings did not ‘replace’ the sons she lost nor the husband who was taken away from her. No one can ever take the place in our hearts that belongs to our loved ones who have died. But that does not prevent us from finding joy again.

Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him. The neighbor women said, “A son has been born to Naomi,” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. ~Ruth 4:16

In the first meeting of The Compassionate Friends that I attended someone said something like, “It won’t always hurt this way … we promise … there are brighter days ahead.” Over six years later I can testify that this is true. 

The narrative of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi chronicles for us a pathway through grief. It isn’t always pretty. It can be messy. But  it is a painful journey through which we press on. At times it seems so dark that there is no way out. There is light ahead, just around the bend. Don’t ever give up.

Thanks to Michael Whitworth for insights from his wonderful book Bethlehem Road that I’ve been studying in the past few weeks. 

What Would Mary Say to a Bereaved Parent?

5.12.14

It is not uncommon for bereaved parents to be angry with God because of the pain that they are enduring. That is expected and understandable. Even God understands the pain of losing a child, although we have to admit His loss is a bit different. He has a different perspective, doesn’t He?

On this past Mother’s Day one of our deacons gave an excellent communion meditation about Mary observing the death of her son on the cross. Maybe some of you have watched your sons or daughters suffer before finally passing away due to disease or accident or some other cause. You can identify with Mary in some ways.

But what would Mary say to a bereaved parent? Of course I cannot say for sure, because there are actually very few words of Mary in the Bible. I wonder if we could take those sayings and understand her perspective on life and life as the mother of the Messiah?

The truth is that Mary lived with the impending death of her son for a long time. He didn’t keep it a secret that he was going to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. Although that message never seemed to connect with the disciples until it happened, I wonder if Mary did understand?  What might she say to a bereaved parent?

Trust God when it is painful. When Mary was told that she was going to bear the Christ-child, she said:

“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38

I’m not sure, but I have the feeling that this was Mary’s perspective throughout the challenging moments of the life of Jesus. She regarded her life as belonging to God and she trusted Him, even through her pain. When we lose a child it feels like God forgot about us or, worse, hates us. If we are to turn away from Him, where will we go? Remembering that God is intently observant and hurts along with us gives us the courage to hang on to Him, even if it seems difficult to do so. Do you think it was hard for Mary to trust God while she wept at the foot of the cross? God understands that.

Trust God and remember His promises. In Luke 1:46-55 there is recorded the Magnificat … the song of Mary upon her visit with Elizabeth. In the closing refrain of that song she sang:

He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.” Luke 1:54, 55

Embedded in that promise made to the family of God was the suffering and death of a Messiah. Mary would have been very familiar with Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. Sometimes we think God has promised long and healthy lives for all of us, especially our children. That’s not a promise of God, it is a parent’s deepest hope. But God has promised something better – an eternal hope for those who will follow Him. I wonder if during this celebration song there wasn’t a fleeting dread of the future in Mary’s heart?

Trust God when you are afraid. Lest we think Mary to be like some of her portraits … stoic and glowing … there was a time when she was afraid that she had lost Jesus as a boy.

…“Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” Luke 2:48

Every parent knows that feeling. Mary was not perfect, the Bible nowhere claims that she was free from mistakes or shortcomings. When frightened she frantically searched for her son. The death of a child brings to the surface so many emotions…and fear can be one of them. Once the worst thing that could ever happen has happened… what’s next? This fear can find its way into our dreams and our anxieties. At the cross do you think Mary had some fear at the way her son was mistreated and the crowd around her was so brutal?

The only other words we have from Mary are a few phrases in John 2. Given the portrait we have of her in these settings from Luke, I wonder if Mary would say to a bereaved parent … perhaps sometime later in her life after Jesus died… Trust God, friend …

When it is painful …

When you wonder if He will keep his promises …

When you are afraid…

I don’t think that’s too big of a stretch. And actually those are things I needed to remember when I first started this journey of being a bereaved parent. Maybe it will help us to remember that the mother of Jesus was someone who lost a son. I know, it’s different in some ways. But don’t ever think that Mary didn’t miss that boy … late at night … after he ascended to the Father … as she looked up into a Palestinian star-lit sky. She would have liked to have held his face in her hands one more time and looked into his eyes.  And so she has.

In your pain, listen to the voice of Mary whispering from ages ago.

Thanks for reading, John.

 

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We All Need Hope

1 Peter 1.3-9

4.28.14

On the day that Peter denied Christ three times, the Bible says that Jesus looked at him. Have you ever thought about how Jesus looked at Peter? Was it accusatory? Merciful? Surely not, “I told you so!” We do not know, but we do know that Peter went out and wept. He lost hope and even after seeing the resurrected Christ ended up just going back to his old life of fishing. Then Jesus restored him back to service.

Losing hope isn’t so difficult to understand. We feel a distance from God that is hard to overcome.  We realize that life is so temporary. The best things we own will break down, wear out, be stolen, or let us down in some other way. We try really hard but often fail. People we love disappoint us. Life is just hard. Every day we are exposed to suffering, injustice, poverty and hunger. Those we elect to help us forget about us. The truth is everyone reading these words has been hurt, suffered losses, and have old wounds that won’t heal.  Losing hope? Not hard to do.

Unless we listen to someone who lost hope once and rediscovered it in the presence of Jesus. Peter sees the struggles of life and points us in the right direction to restore hope. We all need hope.  I encourage you to take a moment and read 1 Peter 1:3-9, especially in the NLT.

When we listen to Peter, we find out why hope is so important to us.

HOPE SEES CONNECTION (1 Peter 1:3). What hope really needs to keep going is the fuel of life. When we are hopeless we tend to forget our connection to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. He experienced all of that to give us a new birth. Our hope is not alive or dead because of what happens to us in our life. Our hope is alive and eternal because HE is alive and eternal. We are connected to Him through our faith in Jesus as Risen Lord.

HOPE HAS NO EXPIRATION! (1Peter 1:4) . It is an eternal life that we have inherited from Christ. That promise is not temporary at all. While all the world has a temporary nature to it, the life that Christ gives is eternal. It is pure. There is nothing that can enter into it that can defile it or cause it to fade, rust or chip. It is reserved in a place where nothing can bring about destruction … heaven. As the NLT says, it is “beyond the reach of change and decay.“.

HOPE SEES ANTICIPATION (1 Peter 1:5-6). Peter’s focus is not so much on this life as it is on the promised eternal life to come. It is going to be revealed on the last day. But Peter also doesn’t ignore the truth that there are going to be some rugged roads ahead. “…Even though you have to endure many trials for a while.” The trials of fire can be extreme, but they cannot diminish God’s care and His work in our lives. God is using your trials to create something beautiful in your life. I’m not a believer that He is causing your troubles, but he can work within them to bring about blessings you couldn’t have anticipated! His power endures until the end!

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13

So put your hope in Christ. Place your faith, your trust in Him.  Peter encourages us …

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. ~1 Peter 1:8-9

Love Him, Trust Him, Rejoice in Him.  Put your hope in Him. I know we haven’t seen Him (Read Romans 8:24, 25; John 20:29).

Peter is not so much on having your best life now, as much as he is living your best to receive life THEN. Hope leads us to take care of the eternal things most of all. Our eternal salvation comes when we trust Christ and give ourselves to Him in the ways that He has asked us to.

Next time you’re feeling hopeless, reconnect with the eternal realities of God’s love for you, the indestructible power of hope, and the anticipation of seeing how God is working through your struggles to create something beautiful.

Thanks for reading! Below are some books for your Kindle. As always double check the price before buying. It does change!

Peter (Ancient-Future Bible Study: Experience Scripture through Lectio Divina): Fisherman and Shepherd of the Church ($7.99)

Peter: Fisherman, Disciple, Apostle ($2.99)

1 and 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings: 23 (Preaching the Word) ($9.99)

Peter & Paul DVD ($12.59)

Brave Enough to Follow: What Jesus Can Do When You Keep Your Eyes on Him ($9.99)

The Collected Works of Jessie Penn-Lewis – Seven books in one ($3.29)

The Andrew Murray Collection: 21 Classic Works (.99)

The Book of Missionary Heroes (Free!)