The Burden of Grief

In reading Martin Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Council,” I was struck by how profound many of his insights into healthy grieving were. Since I currently work as a hospice chaplain, I spend extended time with patients and families both before death occurs and up to 13 months after it happens, I see many types of grieving behavior. Those who grew up being admonished for not “getting over” the loss of a loved one quickly or for grieving “inappropriately” would benefit from reading his wise words. Far too often, Christian leaders have used 1 Thessalonians 4:10 (do not grieve as those who have no hope) out of context. This verse does not preclude mourning, wailing or giving lament to one’s loss. It does prohibit the giving up of one’s hope of ever seeing a fellow believer again or losing one’s self to self destructive despair.

Luther insists that while we should not become hysterical, there is nothing disgraceful about mourning, nothing unfaithful in giving vent to one’s feelings (just read Job or Habbakuk.) The stiff upper lip mindset we inherited from Victorian England should have been retired long ago. Indeed, a Christian can grieve harder over death because he or she knows that death is unnatural, a consequence of the Fall. Death is described in the New Testament as our enemy. We mourn over what should have never been — separation in this life. We grieve hard over the death of non-believers, knowing their fate. The fact that they are lost to us forever cuts us deeply.  Luther, in fact, suggests that it is a sign of unfaith when people never mourn.

In “All Our Losses, All Our Griefs,” by co-authors Kenneth Mitchell and Hubert Anderson, there is this quote: “To be a follower of Christ is to love life and to value people; things that God has given us in such a way that losing them brings sadness.” p38.

Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death. Jewish people and many other cultures hired mourners and grieving went on for several days, sometime weeks. A whole book of the Bible, Lamentations, deals with loss as do many Psalms. Scripture records that the mourning for Jacob’s death lasted 70 days and for Moses 30 days (Genesis 50:3 and Deuteronomy 34:8) Why would we think that a few days off of work is all a person needs to come to terms with a significant loss.

We mourn – not at the thought of a person being lost to us forever (with the exception of non-believers), nor because we do not know where they are. We mourn because we valued them as a person made in God’s image, a unique person. We miss their camaraderie, their love, spontaneity,  friendship and a thousand other things that made them special to us. We need to let people grieve fully. We need to stop telling them to “get over it” and “move one.” Let God work the healing process. He is far better at it than you could ever possibly be. There is a time for everything, including mourning. It doesn’t last forever — one morning joy will come again and surprise us when it does. The deeper one loves the deeper one grieves. The deeper one loves God, the better one can lean on Him for strength in times of sorrow. He is well acquainted with grief. Jesus is described as a Man of Sorrows and one who suffered many losses.

I mourn my losses deeply, more deeply as the years go by, but I don’t fly into hysterics because I know my God and He is good. I trust in Him to make sense of it for me when I can’t see any sense in it. I have faith that He is both just and merciful in equal measure and that He knew what was best for my loved one’s life.

When you council with the grieving, let them know that they have permission to cry, to feel lonely, to hurt, to vent feelings without being judged. The best way to help them grieve is to help them remember the loved one. Share memories, share experiences with them. This sharing time helps to normalize the reality of death and allows the griever to know that their loved one’s life mattered to others. By talking about them, sharing pictures and moments about them it keeps alive, in a way, and diffuses the pain. Many times it allows laughter to mix with the tears. We are called to share each other’s burdens and the burden of grief is one that all of us can use help shouldering.

 

Knowing the Heart and Soul of a Fellow Believer

One of the greatest things about the 18 years we served churches in Montana was the lack of sectarianism. By this I mean those who were of the Reformed or Armenian or Calvinist or even Wesleyan belief systems worked well together. Those issues were not a litmus test for brothers and sisters working together on projects much too large for one church. Part of the reason was the geographical situation. Churches were often isolated from other churches of the same denomination. My own, for example, was 110 miles removed from the next church of the same denomination. Throw in Montana’s abysmally cold and long winter which forbids travelling long distances much of the time and one learns how to play nice with one’s neighbors. I spoke at our churches, Lutheran churches, Methodist congregations and had great rapport with the ministers of the Assembly, 7th Day Adventist and Disciples of Christ churches. This was necessary to reach a town that had never seen an outbreak of revival in anyone’s memory. We knew each other intimately. We knew each other’s families. We prayed and labored together. Did we have our differences? Yes. We didn’t sweep them under the rug or compromise – we discussed them, rationally, like adults and joined where we could, such as on issues of the right to life. We knew each others hearts and never demonized the other.

I well remember rumors, unfounded of course, that flew one year about my family and I. At a ministerial meeting, the other pastors pledged to address this from their pulpits, set the record straight and they did so. This show of support was overwhelming and much appreciated. In this atmosphere, the gospel witness went forth.

Unfortunately,  this did not last. Even more unfortunately, the disruption came from within my own denomination. There were many who came in, from down South, with preconceived ideas and agendas that ruined a sweet fellowship. Adherence to a particular interpretation of Scripture became the basis for isolating and minimizing churches and pastors who failed to follow those in positions of power. The same has been experienced in church after church here in Georgia after our relocation. I long for the days when church leaders got together to know, intimately, the heart and soul of fellow ministers. I long for the time when differences of opinion can be discussed rationally, like adults if not like Christians without demonizing those who differ. It may be that I am wrong in an area of doctrine or you may be wrong. We may even both be wrong because I have yet to meet a single person who understands every aspect of Scripture. I have met many who think they do but that’s another story.

In the midst of this, though, I do find hope. From some in my denomination, though not many. I find it from others who have taken the time to get to know their fellow ministers as a person. They may have met them at a hospital, visiting on the same floor, traveled on the same flight together or met at a community event. This gives me hope. Our ministry spans denominations as in many countries there are ones not even represented here in the States. We don’t make churches who ask for help fill out a questionnaire – we go and help. They will take what they agree with and toss the rest, we know. But it is freely offered to all the same. Ta Ethne is somewhat Reformed in its leanings but our most faithful supporters are Wesleyan. They know our heart and work with us. We have Calvinists and Armenians both who advise us and help edit our resources. How can this be? Because God is bigger than all of us. He knows our heart and soul and we should get to know the heart and soul of His children as well. We have also been shunned by others who thought we were too “Presbyterian” and by others who felt we were too “liberal” (whatever that means). Others have questioned how a “Calvinistic-leaning” organization could be so mission-minded (guess they haven’t read our books) and still others thought we played and worked too much with our Wesleyan friends (although I would never give up those friendships). Both sides (or maybe all 4 sides) have labeled us as somethings or other at various times. I just shake my head and forge on as God directs. I would rather describe us as followers of Jesus Christ helping other followers of Jesus Christ become mature disciples.

It is far easier to dismiss someone if you don’t personally know them. Getting to know people shakes up your assumptions and the parroting of beliefs held by others. I remember my first trip to Malaysia, a Muslim nation, and having every assumption I had crushed. They were the most open and friendly of people, full of questions and having a desire to know my beliefs. From mosques to bazaars we encountered curiosity and developed friendships. I learned about the Koran and Muslim beliefs from practicing adherents and they learned of Christianity and the Bible from me. We discussed and argued civilly, respecting each other while differing. The same held true on my trips to China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and other places. I find it sad that I find more civility and respect in foreign countries from those with differing beliefs than in the Bible Belt.

Oh, how I long for an outpouring of the Spirit to bring about a melting of hearts, a desire for civility. I long for ministers of the gospel to get to know other leaders as people. Invite them over for a meal, go on a retreat with them, study Scripture together regularly — get to know their heart and soul. You may just win a friend for life or even for eternity. You might also become a far better minister

Thoughts on Repentance

As work continues on The 180º Project, research into the topic of repentance continues to yield many treasures. There has been a lot of things written on this topic over the centuries and we hope to coalesce this into a work that will benefit many leaders. One such treasure that we have found comes from Scott Hafemann, from his theological primer. If you find any such gems that you feel might help us in our research on biblical repentance, send them our way at taethne@outlook.com. Enjoy his:

Jesus’ gospel of forgiveness is not unrelated to the Bible’s demand for holiness. Obedience is not a “second step” added to our faith, so that “accepting Jesus as Savior” must be supplemented by “accepting Jesus as Lord.” We are not saved by grace and then sanctified (made holy) by our own works. Being a Christian is not a matter of adding our will to God’s, our efforts to His. Rather…”putting away sin,” which is faith in action, is the means to persevering, which we do by depending on Jesus from beginning to end. In other words, repenting from the disobedience of disbelief, and the life of persevering faith that this brings about, which entails obeying God, are all one expression of “looking to Jesus.” One cannot exist without the other… There is only one thing, not two, that we must do to be saved: trust God with the needs of our lives. This one thing in God’s provision (now supremely manifested in Christ) will show itself, from beginning to end, in our many acts of repentance and obedience.

 

Scott Hafemann

The God of Promise and the Life of Faith. Crossway Books, 2001, p. 191-192.

Hymn Devotions Day 40 – More About Jesus

DAY 40 – MORE ABOUT JESUS

             What a great way to end forty days of devotions. To learn more about Jesus everyday should be the desire of each of us. No matter how much I study and how much I learn, I have only scratched the surface of knowing Him. I desire to know more about Him. I am glad that eternity means forever, because that is how long I anticipate it taking to even begin knowing Him.

In learning more about Him, I will come to understand what He means when I am given direction by Him. I will be able to discern His will more clearly and obey Him more completely. I will come to understand His Words revealed in the Scriptures, written for our guidance.

One of the greatest ways to learn more of Him is to talk to Him, through prayer, each day. It is in conversing with Him that we learn to hear His voice. We also read of Him in the Bible, so that we can compare what it says to what we hear, to make sure we are hearing His voice and not an imposters.

Another reason I desire to learn more about Him is to be able to show others I know, whom I care about, what He is like. I long to show His grace and transforming power to those around me who need Him most. If I am going to be greedy and shout more, more, I want it to be a holy greediness to understand my Lord better.

My prayer for you, is that you will desire to know more about Him also.

 

Lord, help us desire to know more of You. Reveal Yourself to us as we come to You in prayer, as we read of You in the Bible. Speak to us in an unmistakable voice, one that cuts through the clutter and noise of the world. Help us to know You so that we may live a life pleasing to You and bring others to You for salvation.

MORE ABOUT JESUS by Eliza Hewitt

 

More about Jesus would I know

More of His grace to others show

More of His saving fullness see

More of His love Who died for me

 

More about Jesus let me learn

More of His holy will discern

Spirit of God, my teacher be

Showing the things of Christ to me

 

More about Jesus in His Word

Holding communion with my Lord

Hearing His voice in every line

Making each faithful saying mine

 

More about Jesus on His throne

Riches in glory all His own

More of His kingdom’s sure increase

More of His coming, Prince of Peace

 

REFRAIN:

 

More, more about Jesus

More, more about Jesus

More of His saving fullness see

More of His love who died for me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hymn Devotions Day 37 – Almost Persuaded

 DAY 37 – ALMOST PERSUADED

            Based on the KJV’s translation of Acts 26:28 and a sermon by the Reverend Brundage, Philip Bliss gives us this hymn with a sobering theme. It seems that as he was listening to a sermon, a line was uttered that went, “He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost.” As he reflected on this, he was moved to pen the words to this hymn.

What a sad situation it is, when a person receives a witness of the gospel truth, accepts it as the truth, and still refuses to submit to Christ’s Lordship. How sad to hear from people, “some more convenient day”, not right now, later, perhaps. It is so frustrating to hear people acknowledge the truth but refuse to let it change their lives.

Some are afraid they will have to give up a lifestyle they enjoy, some are afraid of the demands God may make of them. This fear keeps many from following, making the mistake that they can repent right before death and find peace. They forget that death can come unexpectedly and it is too late once they appear before the judgment seat.

It is for this reason the Bible tells us that today is the day of salvation. We are not to harden our hearts to the gospel, not to delay in repenting of our sins and asking God for mercy. Now the invitation is given, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Whether tomorrow brings death to us or the return of Christ, either way it spells doom for the unbeliever. To delay may be eternally fateful. Sad, sad, their bitter wails as they realize, too late, they missed the invitation. Let us bear down in prayers for those we love before it is too late for them.

 

Lord, there are those I love who are foolishly waiting. They know the truth but have yet to bend their knee to You. Let Your Spirit strive with them still, melt their hard heart and lead them to You I pray.

 

ALMOST PERSUADED by Philip Bliss

 

Almost persuaded now to believe;

Almost persuaded Christ to receive;

Seems now some soul to say,

Go, Spirit, go Thy way

Some more convenient day

On Thee I’ll call

 

Almost persuaded, come, come today;

Almost persuaded, turn not away;

Jesus invites you here

Angels are lingering near,

Prayers rise from hearts so dear;

O wanderer, come!

 

Almost persuaded, harvest is past!

Almost persuaded, doom comes at last!

Almost cannot avail;

Almost is but to fail!

Sad, sad, that bitter wail

Almost, but lost!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hymn Devotions Day 20 – How Firm A Foundation

DAY 20 – HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION

How I love the affirmation of Scripture in the very first verse of this wonderful hymn! We can count on God’s Word. It’s veracity gives us a rock solid foundation for our faith. Everything we need to have a godly life pleasing to Him is found in His Word. It is complete.

I also love the way the author depicts how God is with us, our Rock. We are able to trust Him. Every word, every promise He gives us, is true and we can lean on Him at all times. He will never leave us nor forsake us. There is no place we can go where His presence cannot be with us. How comforting that is.

That truth is also frightening. Whenever I go someplace a Christian ought not to go, whenever I place myself in situations I ought not to be in, I take Christ there with me. I expose Him to shame and grieve His Holy Spirit.

We are even shown, in verse 4, the truth that the fiery trials we encounter are merely to refine us, not destroy us. God lets us go through them not to bring harm to us, but to purify us and make us strong.

What a wise and loving God we serve. No matter what we go through, no matter who or what seeks to conquer us, we can stand firm with the shield of faith, steadfast in the knowledge that the Lord is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in times of trouble.

 

Lord, what a blessing Your Holy Word is. Thank you so much for giving it to us. Help me to study it and to hide it in my heart, so that I might not sin against You. 

 

HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION – Robert Keen? George Keith?

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He has said

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

 

“Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed

For I am Your God and will still give you aid

I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause thee to stand

Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

 

When through the deep waters I call thee to go

The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow

For I will be with thee, your troubles to bless

And sanctify thee to your deepest distress

 

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie

My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply

The flame shall not hurt thee I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

 

The soul that on Jesus, hath leaned for repose

I will not, I will not desert to his foes

That soul though all hell shall endeavor to shake

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”

On Counseling

It bothers me to hear from fellow pastors that they are not doing counseling, at least, no more than a session or two. It seems that they have bought into the philosophy that they are somehow not qualified to help people with their problems like a “professional” counselor is. This is dangerous thinking. A pastor usually has 4, sometimes 8 – 10 years of formal education in the word of God. Their very calling as a shepherd requires them to use Scripture to help people live productive lives that will be blessed by God. Is this not counseling? How can one justify sending a hurting, confused person that you are spiritually responsible for, from your flock, to an outside person? It is an abrogation of one’s responsibility.

Unless there is a medical problem that is suspected, there should not be a referral to an outside person, especially if the one being referred to isn’t even a Christian! Every problem has a sin component to it. It is the pastors job to help identify the problem. Without identifying the sin(s) contributing or causing a persons problem, remedy cannot be made. The pastor needs to lead them to confess and repent of said sin and make restitution where possible. The person must then be given godly habits to instill and accountability with their lifestyle so that there is not a relapse. This holds true for marriage counseling, family counseling, addictive behaviors, etc.

It is time for pastors to stop being lazy, stop buying into the lie that they are not capable of counseling, and get involved in the lives of their people. It is easy to preach, easy to lead meetings – it is hard work to actually shepherd a people and care for them. To say you don’t know how means you are admitting you don’t know how to take God’s Word and apply it to real life. You need to repent of your laziness and have the integrity to stop calling yourself a pastor or repent of your ignorance of how to use God’s Word and go and learn.

Do you care enough about your people to help them? Do you know enough to help them? Its time to stop playing church, stop playing leader and learn how to serve as God calls us to serve.