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"Let us reason together…" Isaiah 1:18

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How Do I Deal with My Emotions upon the Death of an Unsaved Family Member or Close Friend?

Today I was asked a most sobering question.

“My family member knowingly, intentionally and thoughtfully rejected the saving grace of Jesus Christ and has died in deep disbelief and rejection.  How do I deal with this grief?”

Someone who is far wiser than I am could respond much more effectively than I can, but I am the one who received the question and should share my feeble thoughts.

In responding to this heart-breaking question, my mind journeys in several directions.

First, it seems important to feel, thoroughly and extensively feel, the grievous loss.  A person you greatly love has died without the hope of eternal life and without a public confession of faith in Jesus for salvation.  Your sorrow is well founded.

Our Lord, Jesus, wept at the death of His friend who, without a doubt was righteous.  No one knows the response Jesus would have experienced at the death of an unrighteous friend.  The Bible doesn’t give us a glimpse into that possibility.

Recently, a very well respected theologian stated, “When Jesus wept, it was Jesus the man weeping.  Jesus, as fully God, could never weep.”  This troubled my soul.  Jesus is fully God and fully human.  He can’t be divided into the God part and the human part.  He is Him.  He is both God and human at the same time and in the same place.

Equally troubling is the notion that God can not cry.  I suppose the argument is that a Sovereign, Almighty and All-knowing God would have no sorrow because He fully knows the beginning from the end and everything is both happening and already happened.  All reality is, they might argue, past tense for God.

From my perspective, the Bible reveals God as interacting with reality in real time, with real emotions and genuine experience.  I am convinced the death of your unsaved family member or close friend deeply moves the emotions of God.  When you sorrow, you are experiencing an emotion placed in you by being created in His image.  Because He can grieve, you can too.

There may be some comfort in knowing your grief is shared by God Himself.  You are not alone, emotionally or in any other way.  God understands.  He too felt the sorrow of a family member’s death.  His Son died with the sin of the whole world on His shoulders.  God gets it.

With the inner workings of the human spirit, soul and body being so little understood, there is a measure of comfort in knowing the One who knit your loved one together in their mother’s womb knows everything about everything in their lives.  There are no uncovered facts.  God knows it all.

God is always fair and just in His judgements.  He will always do what is right and just and holy.

Sometimes it feels as if the grief will never end.  The Bible mentions the possibility of “sorrow upon sorrow.”  The revelation of Jesus to John powerfully reveals God ends the season of grief by “wiping every tear from their eyes.”

It doesn’t feel like it right now, but this sorrow will come to a close because “weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  There is a measure of comfort in knowing this season of sorrow will end by God’s Personal action of drying our tears.

Turning the loss into longing is vital.  People weren’t designed and created for eternal separation, grief and loss.  We were hand formed by God for Ideal Condition.  Developed for the ideal condition of God’s perfect Garden and to be in His Personal presence, we are not at home and settled in to this existence of our messed up world.

Everything inside of everyone longs for a return to God’s Ideal Condition.  Redeeming the loss by transforming it into authentic deep longing for God and His eternal home, is most helpful.  In our loss we can find our truest longing.

“So my soul longeth after thee, oh God.”

Posted on 13th June 2019 in grief, Health, Intentional Spiritual Growth, Musings  •  Comments are off for this post
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When You Don’t Understand

Jesus made it simple.

He authored no novels, leadership, psychology, or religious texts.

Amazingly, the Ultimate Truth created no dogma, creed, or liturgy.

The All Knowing made it simple.  Put it on the lower shelf.  Placed it in the shallow end.  Even guys like me with a small UQ (Understanding Quotient) can get it.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Jesus taught.

I’m to surrender my will to His, when I understand and when I don’t.

My life finds all of its meaning when I raise the white flag of surrender to God.

Surrendering my wish to understand is sometimes the most challenging surrender of them all. Desiring to “understand” is often a code word for “God, you didn’t follow my advice or demands.”

Crazy, isn’t it? To think that I could counsel the Counselor.

Years ago I had the delight of talking with the prolific song writer, Ira Stanphill. Ira said, “One day my life suddenly made no sense at all. Out of the blue I received a manila envelope. When I opened it I was shocked beyond belief. My wife had filed for divorce. I was in total shock. The breath was knocked out of me. I couldn’t believe it. A couple of days later, as I was leaving an attorney’s office, I was weeping with deep grief. I had no strength to walk another step. Leaning against a street light pole to keep me from falling over, I had a thought that I wrote down on the back of that same manila folder.”

Tho’ shadows deepen, and my heart bleeds,
I will not question the way He leads;
This side of Heaven we know in part,
I will not question a broken heart.

We’ll talk it over in the bye and bye.
We’ll talk it over, my Lord and I.
I’ll ask the reasons – He’ll tell me why,
When we talk it over in the bye and bye.

I’ll trust His leading, He’ll never fail,
Thru darkest tunnels or misty vales.
Obey his bidding and faithful be,
Tho’ only one step ahead I see.

We’ll talk it over in the bye and bye.
We’ll talk it over, my Lord and I.
I’ll ask the reasons – He’ll tell me why,
When we talk it over in the bye and bye.

I’ll hide my heartache behind a smile
And wait for reasons ’til after while.
And tho’ He try me, I know I’ll find
That all my burdens are silver lined.

We’ll talk it over in the bye and bye.
We’ll talk it over, my Lord and I.
I’ll ask the reasons – He’ll tell me why,
When we talk it over in the bye and bye.

When things aren’t making sense for you, join Jesus in Gethsemane and pray,

“Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”


Posted on 16th March 2017 in grief, MCA Family  •  Comments are off for this post
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Race and Ethnicity Humility

The news out of St. Louis County regarding the tensions there are further signs of how much the individual and collective human heart needs a complete transformation by the work of Jesus.  As buildings burned, people ransacked and looted, and many were arrested, I watched a Caucasian women say, “I don’t know what all the noise is about.  There are no racial tensions here in Ferguson.”

Clearly, not everyone sees the world the way she does.

When different perspectives intersect different deeply held beliefs difficulty abounds.  Interestingly, every position claims that God is on their side.Starfish Blue

Two definitions come to mind – race and ethnicity.

Race is genetic.  In our DNA.  God given. Unchangeable.  With Darrell and Clairena as my parents, my race would be the same if I was born in China, Israel, or Burkina Faso.

Ethnicity is learned.  It is about traditions, culture, and behaviors.  Ethnicity is changeable.

MCA Church is moving forward in “keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)” by learning what I call “race and ethnicity humility.”    Following the Biblical command to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than your selves,” (Philippians 2:3) includes race and ethnicity!  In humility I am to count other races as more significant than mine.  Humbling myself before other ethnicities is a must.

Personally, my race is Caucasian and much of my ethnicity is Inupiat.

For me it isn’t real difficult to consider other races as more significant than mine, but it is a HUGE challenge to honor other ethnicities above my own.  For example, my Inupiat ethnicity is steeped in the power of feasting as worship. After a successful hunting season in which God has provided whales, moose, caribou, fish, seals, walrus, and ducks, EVERYTHING stops for the feast.  Naluqatak, the Barrow, Alaska Whaling Festival, is among the yearly highlights of celebration to God for His bountiful provisions.

With joy, I brought Naluqatak to MCA Church on Thanksgiving Day.  I was so excited to have an MCA Church wide feast celebrating the goodness and bounty of the Lord.  To my total surprise, the people of my own race thought it to be the dumbest and most family unfriendly idea they had ever heard.  “What?  You want us to leave our suburban homes where we gather on Thanksgiving with our family?  You are crazy!  Thanksgiving is a day to stay home with family.”

At that moment I realized that I am, by birth, a white guy.  I am by upbringing, an Inupiat.

Deep in my soul I felt that those who disagreed with me about Thanksgiving being a church-wide feast unto the Lord were anti-ministry, anti-church family, and anti-love one another.  Now I know that there are more than just one way to celebrate God’s bounty.  I must admit, because ethnicity runs so deep in my soul, I still think the church-wide feast unto the Lord is better and more spiritual than “cloistering” in our middle and upper class homes.

This is clearly an opportunity for me to practice ethnicity humility.

MCA Church continues to become a collection of people from many races and even more ethnicities.  By God’s grace we are learning to consider other’s race and ethnicity as better than our own.  You, your race, and your ethnicity are deeply loved, valued, and appreciated in our Church family.

I can’t bring much change to the situation in Ferguson but I can humbly consider the races and ethnicities with whom I interact as better than my own.

Race and ethnic humility is my starfish.  I can’t change the whole beach but I can make a difference for this one.

Posted on 25th November 2014 in Giving, Glocal, Gratitude, grief, Ministry Development, Missions  •  Comments are off for this post
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Things Will Get Better

This teen makes a fantastic point about the passing nature of depression. Never allow yourself to get stuck in the dark valley. Keep walking and you’ll see the light of joy again.

I viewed this video here. http://gnli.christianpost.com/video/young-girls-inspirational-message-after-her-best-friend-commits-suicide-7080

Posted on 28th October 2012 in Creativity, Flourish, grief, Uncategorized  •  Comments are off for this post
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Troy Davis and the Bible

Just a few hours ago, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis for the murder of an off duty police officer. I must say these situations are very complicated and fill my soul with a deep sense of sadness and solemnity.

Obviously, I support a Biblical interpretation of the notion of dying for one’s murderous crimes. The tough question, however, is “What does the Bible mean by what it says about the death penalty?”

It is on this point that I feel the judicial system of the United States has it mostly wrong. Our system of justice is based upon the notion of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” One can be executed for a murderous crime if the jury determines that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice, in the Bible, however, requires NO DOUBT. Reasonable doubt and no doubt are totally different scales of measurement.

Additionally, in my view, the Bible condones the death penalty but does not require the death penalty. If the Bible required the death penalty for murders of passion, Cain would have been executed. If the Bible required the death penalty for premeditated murder, we would not have Moses. If the Bible required the death penalty for contract killings, we wouldn’t have King David. If the Bible required the death penalty for accessory to murder, we wouldn’t have the Apostle Paul.

I feel sorrow for the family who lost their wonderful brother, father, son, friend, and committed police officer.

Executing Troy Davis was not, in my opinion, what the Bible would have required. If the Bible doesn’t require Troy’s execution, then let mercy flow. Life in prison is my choice for convictions that are “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Save the death penalty for egregious cases where there is absolutely NO DOUBT.

Posted on 22nd September 2011 in Funerals, grief, Message Response, Simple LIfe  •  Comments are off for this post
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Personal Grief Journal: Encouragement, the Selflessness of Grief

In a previous post, I spoke of the “selfishness” of grief.  A phenomena whereby the soul seeks to be center and lord.

Standing in juxtaposition is the superb selflessness of all involved.  I have seen, in my pastoral ministry, hundreds of deeply wounded people reach into the core of their being for a big dose of comfort for other people.  Those who are grieving often become the comforters.

Additionally, in my experience, the encouragement people give is of value in the deepest part of the heart.  The ministry of “Being There” is amazing.  All of the people who simply stand by one’s side and offer conversation if desired, or a helping hand, or a tiny nod of the head is of exceptional encouragement.

Dialogue is encouraging too.  The conversations are not linear, they take various twists and turns between quickly changing ideas and emotions.  One moment we are talking about death and the next about a delightful memory.  Emails, texts, phone calls, and kind words in passing all bring comfort.

We often hear about the gift of encouragement.  Through the passing of my dear friend I have found that gifts are encouraging.  Not only do people have a “gift of encouragement” but the giving of gifts is encouraging.  Thanks for the cookies, meat trays, meals and all of the other gifts.

Acts of kindness are encouraging.  When I needed to leave work to talk with my son about the death of his Uncle Joany, Dale Baker said, “Pastor, please let me drive you.”  He promptly went to his truck, pulled it around to the door, and was ready for a soon departure.

Posted on 14th January 2011 in Burkina Faso, grief  •  Comments are off for this post