Road Work Ahead

Photo by Piotr Wróbel

When we are traveling and encounter a sign that says ‘road work ahead’, we know we are in for a slowdown. That can be frustrating, especially on a long trip. While it can cause us to be delayed for quite a bit of time, it is also a welcome warning. Sometimes you will have to travel over rough roads, come to sudden stops, or even have to travel in the other lane for a while. With these dangers and delays, we can learn to be grateful for the sign that warned us that there was some work going on to make it a better road.

In our lives we encounter some danger zones that are difficult at times. Christians are sometimes baffled at the dangers they have to face. Sadly, sometimes they give up their faith when times get tough. 

Merv Rosell was a successful evangelist in the 1940s and 1950s, author and hymn writer and musician. During his influential ministry, he wrote: 

God could have kept Daniel out of the lion’s den…He could have kept Paul and Silas out of jail…He could have kept the three Hebrew children out of the fiery furnace…But God has never promised to keep us out of hard places … What He has promised is to go with us through every hard place, and to bring us through victoriously. – Merv Rosell

– Merv Rosell

Every day in our lives we should know that there is a sign that says “God at Work Ahead”. That doesn’t mean that every road will be smooth, but it does mean that He will always be present to help us through. That’s what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

In the ups and downs of our lives, God is at work for those who love him. Hang on to God, even in the roughest of times. He can take every difficult thing that happens in life and use it to our benefit ultimately. Faith is trusting in the darkness that He is bringing the light eventually. 

Resource:

McLellon, Vernon. Thoughts that Shaped the Church. Tyndale, 2000.

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/179441245/mervin-ethelbert-rosell

His Love Never Fails

Photo by cottonbro

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker and later a Christian writer and public speaker, who worked with her family to help many Jewish people escape from the Nazis during the Holocaust in World War II by hiding them in her home. They were caught, and she was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Her most famous book, The Hiding Place, is a biography that recounts the story of her family’s efforts and how she shared hope in God while she was imprisoned at the concentration camp. 

Corrie Ten Boom once wrote:

“Human love fails and will always fail. God’s love never fails.”

In all of the great love stories of the world, there is one common thread. Human love fails. Think about it. Eve tempted Adam. Delilah deceived Samson. Rebekkah lied to Isaac. Look at all great romances in the movies and books. It’s true, even of the loves in our own lives. The problem is that all  humans are imperfect. So no matter how strong the feeling and commitment of love is, in some way there is imperfection and failure. 

But God’s love never fails. He is not a human being. He is perfect! He is all knowing! He knows everything about us, but still loves us with a perfect love. Even when you fail Him (and we all do), His love never fails. In his power and perfection, he knows how to love us. One of the best known verses in the Bible affirms this:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

You have been loved – and are loved – with a perfect love that isn’t measured by your past decisions, the regrets of your life, nor the hurts you have endured. While we appreciate every loving relationship we have, one above all is perfect. Remember how well you are loved, and the blessing of eternal life that comes to those who believe. 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Resources:

Corrie Ten Boom. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrie_ten_Boom

McLellon, Vernon. Thoughts that Shaped the Church. Tyndale, 2000.

Patricia Kathleen Givens

April 29, 1948 – April 26, 2022

Gloria, Kathy, Paula, Gail, Brenda, Dan, JoBeth, Donna, Maggy, Janet, Sheila … some of the cousins of this loving large family.

Eulogy For Patricia Kathleen Givens 

Kathy was my sister in law, but as it was with the rest of the family, I never felt like an in-law. Her sudden loss has been like an earthquake in this family – unexpected, it has shaken all of us. Her very important role as the oldest sibling in the family made her a dynamic and dependable force. Exhibiting the spirit of her mother, she was fiercely committed to her marriage, children, grandchildren, and the Lord. She befriended so many over the years that I know hundreds of people are mourning her loss at this time. Her presence in our lives was unmistakable. Part of the experience of a funeral is to recognize just how real this loss is, to express our pain and lament as we cry out before God, and after a time to move forward with her influence continuing to be a part of us. 

I tried to think of the perfect word to describe Kathy, and many impressive words came to mind. But one just kept returning to my mind, and the was the word ‘Devoted’. And that word reminded me of so many great women of the Bible – a book that Kathy loved and lived by.

Like the industrious woman of Proverbs 31, she was devoted to her work and spent many years earning and blessing her family and others by the jobs she performed. She worked for Delta State University for 20 years.

Like decisive and supportive Ruth, she was devoted to her family and nothing could keep her from her love for them all. No one can question her devotion to you, Galen, and nothing could separate her from her commitment to your marriage. This love extended to her parents, brother and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, and so many more.

Like Mary Magdalene, who was always in the life and ministry of Jesus, all the way to the end and to the empty tomb, Kathy was devoted to Jesus. Her life was guided and shaped by her careful desire to follow Him all of her days.

Like Phoebe, whom Apostle Paul recognized as a servant of the church, Kathy was devoted to the church. On the day that she passed from this life she spent time in worship, Bible study, and fellowship with brothers and sisters. She was prepared to teach Bible class for children that very morning. The church could count on Kathy, and Kathy counted on the church. 

Like that influential judge Deborah, she could be counted on to speak up for what was right, as she understood it. She was committed to following God and was a spiritual leader in her home as well as among all of us. 

Like Hannah, God gave her and Galen one son. She admired you and your family, Chad. She loved your wife and children deeply. I know that she could not have imagined her life without all of you.

Like Esther, she was here among us for such a time as this. Today we are recognizing the important place she had in each of our lives. 

That’s an exalted list of women in Scripture, but I don’t think anyone would disagree! None of those women were perfect. All of them had to lean on the Lord in their lives. Kathy wasn’t perfect, never claimed to be, and understood the power of God’s saving grace in her own life. 

It was painful to see her in that hospital bed in Oxford, but it did give us some time to reflect and remember and contemplate how much we love her. During part of that time I sat with her and quietly spoke inspired words of Scripture to her. 

One of those Scriptures included the Shepherd Psalm. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul; 

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil; For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 

All the days of my life; 

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

Another contained the wonderful promise of Jesus.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself… “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

I reminded her of the comfort of Jesus

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

And I prayed over her the precious prayer of Jesus.

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

And do not lead us into temptation, 

But deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Then I started over again. Maybe those Scriptures were as much for me as they were for her. We are assured that because of her faith in the Risen Savior Jesus Christ, she is in a better place with loved ones who have gone on before. I plan to join her one day, trusting in the God who keeps his promises.

Obituary Link

Two Years Later

Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels

Today, March 9, marks two years since Louisiana’s first confirmed COVID case, tweets Governor John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov). Since then we have reported over 1 million cases and have lost 16,813 Louisianans to this virus. Two years after the reality of coronavirus gripped the nation and impacted every aspect of our lives, where are we now? I suppose that all depends on how significant your experience with the virus was/is. For many who lost loved ones as they passed from this life alone in ICU wards, I feel sure the aftershocks of coronavirus continue. For others, it may not have been much more than an inconvenience. But for most of us, in between those two extremes, a variety of responses and reflections come to mind as we remember how life changed two years ago.

It’s a hard subject to talk about because it has such a polarizing effect. When we talk about the virus in a crowd, we have input from those who believe we should still be quarantined, those who think it was all a conspiracy, those who think it was just a strong flu, and others who will drag politics into the discussion. For conflict avoiders like me, it’s better not to talk about it.

I spent a few minutes reading my blog posts reflecting thoughts about virus over the past few years (linked below), and I feel good about what I wrote while we were experiencing the greatest part of it. As one of my elders said to the church this past Sunday, it doesn’t take much reading to know that there are many ministers who are resigning, quitting, leaving the ministry because of the toll that this virus has taken and how it has left many churches with significantly less members. I know that there are many career fields about which the same thing could be said, but the one with which I’m most familiar with is church ministry.

As I see it, the struggles of ministry going forward from this two year mark, remain a challenge. While we have now left behind mask discussions and distanced seating arrangements, none of us is left unaffected by the experience we have had these past two years, and what it revealed about us. Perhaps every crisis gives us insight into who we really are. What I’ve noticed in Christianity over the past few years has left me with the impression that we have some growing to do.

We have some growing to do when it comes to judging one another. No matter where you landed in the discussion, it was hard not to judge those who came to other conclusions. It was a national crisis, a couple of years of quickly changing information as we grew in our understanding of Covid-19. We had to choose who we trusted – and if we trusted differing ‘experts‘, then it was hard not to regard the other person as ill-informed or even daft. We saw church members who wouldn’t come to worship because they were asked to wear a mask and those who wouldn’t come because everyone wasn’t wearing a mask. I expect both of them thought less of the other. I would like to come down hard on that, but I experienced it in my own thinking as well. It’s easy to talk about not judging one another based on their convictions, until we have to try to practice it.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 

– Matthew 7:1,2 ESV

We have some growing to do when it comes to kindness. As opinions grew wider apart, often Christians felt free to speak unkindly of and to one another. We were influenced by angry talking heads on the 24-hour news shows, who often yell over one another, make faces, and even speak insultingly to one another. Constant exposure to that kind of interaction leaked into churches and caused division and hurt. Even when we weren’t meeting and experiencing quarantine, social media gave us outlets to attempt to quash one another in an ungodly manner. It is exactly in the intense situations that kindness matters most.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

– Ephesians 4:29, NLT

We have some growing to do when it comes to worship. It was my conviction that, as good citizens of the state of Louisiana, we should practice love for one another by not meeting together for a brief period of time, as requested by our Governor. I know everyone didn’t agree – and I can live with that. I still believe it was the right thing to do. That birthed the online edition of our worship time together (many churches had already entered this space and it wasn’t the huge challenge for them that it was for us)! I’m very grateful that the majority of our members were online and we were able to communicate and stay in touch. Emerging from quarantine was challenging, but we did it wisely. Forsythe Church never had to shut down services because of an outbreak among our members. Every church had to find their way through this and not one of them had any experience with it. But now that churches are meeting again, the essential nature of online meeting has now become, for some, an option instead of gathering with the family. I am afraid of the outcome for many Christians who no longer gather. Iron cannot sharpen iron from a distance. There is no accountability, no mutual encouragement, no building relationships when our only contact with the church is watching a video online. Ultimately, I believe the fire of faithfulness will become an ember of interest, until it becomes the ashes of a memory.

Ultimately, I believe the fire of faithfulness will become an ember of interest, until it becomes the ashes of a memory.

There have been some positives. Many have expressed how much gathering together means to them now, without restrictions. Reflecting back on the two years at Forsythe, our contribution seldom was less than it needed to be, a signal of priorities and commitment of our people. I know not every church has had that experience. For now, we do not take for granted the conversations, hugs, and love expressed among brothers and sisters. There is a sense that God has seen us through a storm, and we are grateful for His guidance and strength when we had none. We have seen a return of enthusiasm as new works and groups are getting together to serve the Lord. I hope this is true of churches across the world.

I never thought I would live through a pandemic. That seemed like the storyline of a hundred science fiction dystopian novels. But we did it. It was hard, at times. For those who lost loved ones, the experience has to have lasting effects. I’m sorry, along with you, for those losses. We have been reminded that we do not know what the future holds. It’s important to live each day for the Lord, bless and love those we encounter, and be thankful for those who lead through their professions (medical, educational, scientific research, business, financial, and, yes, ministerial). What I want to encourage most is that we all pay attention to our discipleship above and beyond the events and struggles of each day, allowing Christ to lead us through the darkest valleys. And it’s been a dark valley for a couple of years. I’m happy to see some sunshine.

Below are some posts I’ve written about the experience of ministry in a pandemic. Thanks for reading.

That First Sunday

How Are We Going to Heal?

Ministry Moving Forward

COVID: Why We Cannot Give Up

In a Weary Land

Adjustments

We Won’t Know For a While

One Year With Covid

Book Review: The Obituary Writer

The Obituary WriterThe Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book to be very interesting. I thought I had it figured out ahead of time, but a few twists and turns had me second guessing. I loved the observations about grief that were sprinkled throughout the book – they were written from experience for sure. I was a little confused at the end, maybe it was a bit vague to me … but I am glad I read the book. The two women were interesting, but the story of the older woman was MUCH more interesting to me than the younger woman. Glad I read it!

View all my reviews

The above is my review on Goodreads. I wanted to share some quotes from the book, though, that related to grief. I would note that this work of fiction is not a ‘Christian’ novel, and as such there are some elements that are not expressive of my own view of the life we are to live. It is not graphic, however. That being said, there were some expressions about grief that were interesting to me.

Grief made people guilty. Guilty for being five minutes late, for taking the wrong streetcar, for ignoring a cough or sleeping too soundly. Guilt and grief went hand in hand.

Grief and guilt often go hand in hand, but I always try to affirm that guilt is not a grieving person’s friend. The ‘what if‘ and ‘if only’ and ‘I should have‘ statements are often natural, but crushing to our spirit. They embrace the unhelpful kind of reflection that can never be resolved.

“Grief is a strange thing,” Vivien said. “There isn’t an again. Not really. It’s always there, always present. Again implies it can end and then start up anew. But it never goes away in the first place.”

The only way to never experience grief is to never love. If we experience love, then grief is a permanent experience that does not leave us. It does, however, diminish in pain when dealt with in positive and helpful ways, over time.

Grief paralyzed you. She knew this. It prevented you from getting out of bed, from moving at all. It prevented you from even taking a few steps forward.

When newly in grief, we are often surprised at how debilitating it truly is. The simplest of actions can feel complex and weighty.

The grief-stricken want to hear the names of those they’ve lost. To not say the name out loud denies that person’s existence. People seeking to comfort mourners often err this way. They lower their eyes at the sound of the dead’s name. They refuse to utter it themselves.

Perhaps one of the great fears of bereaved people is that others will forget their loved ones. A bereaved parent loves to hear the name of their child who has died. That means that someone remembers, and cares.

Grief made people awkward. It made them afraid and hesitant.

The truth of this is one of the hard experiences of grief. I understand. Conversations about grief are difficult… and yes, awkward. Sometimes answering a simple question like, “How many children do you have?” is suddenly hard to answer.

Despite all of the hugs and words of comfort, unless you have suffered loss you cannot understand the depth of it, the seemingly bottomless pit of despair that goes with grief.

At some time, if you live long enough, you will experience grief. Only then will you be able to truly empathize the feeling that goes along with loss.

She understood that grief is not neat and orderly; it does not follow any rules. Time does not heal it. Rather, time insists on passing, and as it does, grief changes but does not go away.

Yes, grief changes but does not go away. The times of surprise tears can catch us off guard. The remembrances we have that bring about difficult hours of sorrow can overcome us.

Mourners needed to tell their stories. Not once or twice, but endlessly, to whoever would listen.

When you open the newspaper and see an obituary, realize that every name represents an entire system of friends, family, loved ones, neighbors, co workers, church members, etc. When contemplating the depth of loss, it becomes a constant part of our dialog.

This was how to help a family who just lost their child. Wash the clothes. Make soup. Don’t ask them what they need. Bring them what they need. Keep them warm. Listen to them rant and cry and tell their story over and over.

So true. Just look around and see what needs to be done. Do it. Someone lost in grief will often let the little details of life go for a while, it’s just too much to think about. And listen to them. You don’t have to talk.

“It seems like a million years ago,” she added, “and it seems like yesterday. Grief is like that. It never really goes away, it just changes shape.

A great description of grief. All of these reflect the struggle that grief really is. Although grief is common, it is not commonly understood. I appreciated Ann Hood’s descriptions of grief in this novel. They help identify the reality of grief that we experience. They remind us that we are not alone. They point us toward hope.

Thanks for reading.