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Archive for June, 2011

Having not been hit by a personal tragedy in my life so far, such as the tragic death of one of my children or grandchildren, I cannot say for sure how I would handle it. I would surely grieve deeply, for I love each of them, but would I find a way to deal with my grief and eventually move on with life in a healthy way?

Would I be like Eric Clapton, the award-winning musician?

On March 20, 1991, Eric’s four-year old son, Conor, opened the latch of the window of a family friend’s 53rd-floor apartment in New York and fell through the window to his death. Eric arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and was understandably distraught, so much so that he went into seclusion and mourning for several months.

One of the things that ultimately helped him to deal with the tragedy was that he was able to channel his pain and loss into his song writing, especially his song, “Tears in Heaven”:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

I’ll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.

Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knee,
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please…
Begging please…

(instrumental)

Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure.
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven…

Lord, I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven .

Although the song won several music awards in 1992 and 1993, Eric stopped singing it in 2004, saying, “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.”

If I didn’t handle my tragedy like Eric Clapton, would I be like Horatio G. Spafford?

Horatio was a Christian and a successful attorney in Chicago during the mid 1800s, but was hit by three calamities in close succession:

  • The Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out his extensive real estate holdings and investments.
  • His young son died of scarlet fever.
  • His four daughters—Tanetta, Maggie, Annie, and Bessie—were killed in 1873 when the ship on which they were sailing to England with their mother was hit by another vessel in the Atlantic and sank quickly, taking the lives of 226 passengers and crew.

Horatio was supposed to be on the ship with them, but a last-minute crisis in his business delayed him and he sent his family ahead, with plans to join them soon after. When he heard the news, he took the next available ship to join his wife, who survived the sinking, in England.

On the voyage over to England, he spent most of his time on deck, staring at the waves and praying. When his ship passed the approximate area where his daughters lost their lives, Horatio was aware of God’s sustaining and comforting presence, and the words “When sorrows like sea billows roll…it is well with soul” imprinted themselves in his mind.

With those words guiding him, he then went on to pen six verses of a hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” with four of the following verses becoming well known, loved, and sung by churches for over the past 138 years:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)

As beautiful as “Tears in Heaven” is, it does not answer Eric’s soul-searching questions, and it reveals a father whose only recourse is to dig deep within himself and move ahead with the hope of someday finding peace through his own effort. Even then he is not even sure that he will make it to heaven to be united with his son!

Horatio, on the other hand, finds immediate peace and consolation in the midst of his tragedy, and attributes that peace and assurance to the love, grace, and redeeming sacrifice of Christ on his behalf.

It is my deepest desire that when the time comes for me to face my own tragedies, that my grief will be tempered by my faith, trust, and reliance on my Savior, Jesus Christ, who assures us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14: 27, RSV)

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One day, years ago, I was trying to teach my six-year-old daughter Nicole to swim, but she was reluctant to venture into the water. She was sitting by the edge of the pool and I was encouraging her to dive in and swim towards me as I stood three yards away from her. “No,” she said, “I’m afraid I might drown.”

“Honey, I’m here. I won’t let you drown,” I said.

“No, I’m afraid!”

“Trust me, honey, I love you and I’d never let you drown. Just dive in and swim to me. I won’t leave you.”

As I pleaded with her to trust me, I thought of how that scene reflected similar situations in which we fail to trust God when he calls us to leave our comfort zones and venture out with him.

Looking back at that incident in the pool, I am reminded of others who were afraid to respond to God’s call to action:

  • Moses—reluctant to leave behind the safety of his shepherd life in the backcountry of Midian to answer God’s call to go back to Egypt and confront the mighty pharoah with God’s command to free the Israelites (Exodus 3 & 4)
  • The ten scouts—who didn’t trust God to lead them into the promised land of Canaan, thus causing the Israelites to waste 40 years in the wilderness before finally being allowed to enter Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14)
  • Jonah—who ran away from God and the mission to preach to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1 & 2)
  • The rich young ruler—who was afraid and unwilling to give up the comfort of his wealthy lifestyle to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23)
  • Young John Mark—who abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13; 15:36-38)

Probably all of us have found ourselves in similar positions where we’ve been afraid to venture out of our comfort zones to answer God’s call to serve. A friend once confessed to me that he avoided having personal quiet times and Bible meditations because he was afraid that in one of those reflective moments he might hear God calling him to serve in some strange foreign country.

And a woman I know eventually divorced her husband after he gave up his lucrative and fast-paced career as a New York advertising executive to enter the ministry and pastor a small church. She was afraid and unwilling to leave her big city life and adapt to being the wife of a small town pastor.

Whatever the nature of God’s invitation to each of us to serve him, it undoubtedly creates some anxiety or fear in us, for it often means leaving our accustomed safe environments and habits, and venturing into the unfamiliar and unknown.

Even if we’re simply being called to talk to our neighbor across the fence about Jesus, volunteer on skidrow, visit kids in the juvenile detention center, or lead a small group, our initial reaction is usually to find an excuse to not do it.

But God never forces us to do it—whatever It might be in each of our lives—but like an earthly father teaching his young daughter or son to swim or ride a bike, he encourages us to trust him for our needs, our safety, and our future, and assures us of his love and his best interest for us.

And God assures us, as he did the Jewish exiles in Babylon, “I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, New Living Translation)

King David marveled at the extent of God’s plan for our lives, for he realized that it meant God’s favor, love, strength, protection, and guidance even before our moment of conception in our mothers’ wombs and throughout the rest of our life’s journey. He wrote:

  • “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139: 16, NLT)
  • “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me when to stop and rest.” (Ps. 139: 2, NLT)
  • “If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell in the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” (Ps. 139: 9-10, NLT)
  • “The Lord will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.” (Ps. 138: 8, NLT)

And the apostle John also understood the struggle between our love for God and our fears, for he reminded us:

  • “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect….Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and shows that his love has not been perfected in us.” (1 John 4: 16, 17a, 18, NLT)

But lest we think that this love is some kind of sentimental or emotional feeling, John also warned us in his Gospel that there is only one test of our love for God—obedience. He recounted some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he left them, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14: 15, NLT)

And knowing that the disciples—and we, his followers—would sometimes find obeying to be difficult, Jesus added, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” (Jn. 14: 16-17)

Not only does the Holy Spirit lead us into all truth and empower us to cope with the task of spreading the truth of his Kingdom, Jesus also gives us a gift through the Holy Spirit: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (Jn. 14: 27, NLT)

This peace does not mean there is an absence of trouble or conflict. More importantly, it is a peace that comes from knowing that God provides us with all that we need for our highest good, a peace of confident assurance in any circumstance, one in which we fear nothing in the present or the future because we are eternally secure in God’s love and plan!

And in addition to this remarkable indwelling peace, Jesus guarantees us joy that overflows: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (Jn. 15: 9-11, NLT)

May this knowledge of what a wonderful and loving God we serve embolden us to leave the safety of our comfort zones and dive into whatever waters of service that God might be calling us to swim with him, for it is only as we dare to swim out into the unknown with God can we experience his amazing peace and overflowing joy that passes understanding.

So how did Nicole do? Yes, she took the plunge and learned to swim that day!

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