Surprised By Grief

It came with no warning.  There I was enjoying the day with friends.  I was sitting in the front seat of the car, passenger side, laughing and talking, enjoying the beautiful scenery of the rugged seascape of Wales.  Seagulls were floating, wings outstretched on the thermals of the blustery day.  The white capped swells of the ocean rushed to meet the shore, crashing in splendor, each wave gliding, leaving white foam etching patterns on the sand.  Kite surfers happily battled the elements, dog walkers tossed frisbees and balls to their tail wagging, canine friends, and children undeterred by the weather, licked ice-cream cones.  It was a perfect day.

I could feel the smile stretched on my lips as I gazed across this wonderful scene just below the craggy cliff tops.  The radio was on and we were singing along with the old songs of yesteryear.  I felt young again with the songs playing from my youth.  We sang loudly.  I knew every word from one song after another.  Then it happened.  A song began, and with just one line sung, a pain, deep and unexpected, struck the chords of my memory.

In only a moment I was transported to a time past, sitting next to my father.  Tears shot to my eyes, filling them, threatening to spill over my eyelids.  I turned my head to gaze out the window, hoping my companions would not see.  This was a very private moment and I wanted to share it with no one.  What had happened, I asked myself?  What a total surprise; an unwanted surprise!  But wait; no, it was not unwanted.  It was painful, but there was beauty in it, too.

As my thoughts raced to bring some explanation, I came to an understanding:  While the pain reminded me of what I had lost, the memory itself reminded me of the joy of what I once had with my father, and of what I would have again.  After all, the promise of life after death, a continuance of living with our loved ones in Christ, is the secure and comforting hope of every child of God.

The song on the radio continued, but with each verse, watching my father in my mind’s eye, the tears disappeared, and a smile, once again, came to me.  I was thankful to have experienced this beautiful pain.  It reminded me of the joy of love; love that knows no end.  Yes, it really was a perfect day.

“You keep track of all my sorrow.  You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book.”  Psalm 56:8

 

Where Are You, Daddy?

I was walking through a park the other day when what I came upon brought a huge smile to my face.  The scene was of a little girl and her father playing together.  First, he was pushing her on the swing until she called out that she wanted to stop.  Then, squealing in delight, she ran as fast as her little legs would go, shouting, “Catch me, Daddy!”  She ran a little way, turned around, but her father was no where to be seen.

I slowed to watch what would happen.  I had observed her father slip behind some shrubbery.  The little girl didn’t seem at all dismayed that she couldn’t readily see him.  She trotted in one direction and then another, calling out, “Where are you, Daddy?”  When he finally jumped out from his hiding place, she ran to him laughing all the way.  He hugged her, lifted her up and set her down again, took her hand, and the two walked off chattering happily.

It struck me the total trust the little girl had in her father.  He had seemingly disappeared but she showed no fear.  Instead, she looked and called out, “Where are you, Daddy?” When he appeared, it wasn’t relief she exhibited, but simple joy in his presence.  I knew she never doubted that he would come.

I thought to myself, if only we were as trusting in our Heavenly Father.  We can’t see Him with our eyes; perhaps we feel He is hiding, but the evidence of His presence is all around us.  We can see the things He has made, and we can see the results of His blessings in our lives.  We can sense His nearness when we feel afraid, and we can feel His joy just by thinking about Him.  We may forget His presence, but He is always there, just as we are reminded in Genesis 28:16: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not even aware of it.”

There is a song, one of my very favorites, that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.  It reminds me of the vastness of God’s love, of His overwhelming and undeserved grace, of His mercy without end:  Surely The Presence Of The Lord Is In This Place by Lanny Wolfe

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can feel the brush of angel’s wings
I see glory on His face
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

In the midst of His children
The Lord said He would be.
It doesn’t take very many
It can be just two or three.
And I feel that same sweet Spirit
That I’ve felt oft times before.
Surely I can say
I’ve been with the Lord

There’s a holy hush around us
As God’s glory fills this place.
I’ve touched the hem of His garment
I can almost see His face.
And my heart is overflowing
With the fullness of His joy.
I know without a doubt
That I’ve been with the Lord

When Giants Threaten

Nearly everyone, it seems, is familiar with the story of David and Goliath.  Goliath was literally a giant of a man who hated the Israelites.  During this time David was just a young boy.  He had been tending his father’s sheep for most of his young life.

Even in his youth we become aware that David had a strong faith in God.  I love the story of David and Goliath because it reminds me that the only requirement for being used mightily by God is to have a willing and obedient heart.  God does not demand we reach a certain age or hold a specific educational degree or be raised in a particular family or born in a mighty nation.  While mankind may look at these outward appearances and be impressed, God always looks at the heart.

God was looking at David’s heart when Goliath was taunting the Israelites to come and fight him.  “If you win,” Goliath would shout, “we Philistines will be your slaves!”  Obviously, Goliath never thought for a moment that the Israelites had any hope of beating him.  Sadly, the Israelites didn’t believe they could beat him, either.

There they were, trained soldiers.  They had engaged in many battles, and yet, they found themselves paralyzed in fear.  They could not bring themselves to approach this seemingly insurmountable giant.

Then David arrives on the scene.  Not for one moment did he believe that it was impossible to defeat Goliath.  After urging the king to give him a chance, David approached the giant.  We know the outcome of the story.  David, equipped with only a slingshot and a stone, killed the giant by sinking the stone into his forehead.  The battle was won in an instant.

Why could the entire army of Israel not enter this battle?  Why did David have the victory?  We know the answer.  It was because of his faith in his God, but where did David get his faith?  What’s more, how can we acquire such faith?  There’s an interesting and revealing verse in I Samuel 17: 37.  David is talking with the king when he says, “The Lord who has saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine.”

You see, David had never known God to fail; therefore, he never believed He would.  Filled with the knowledge that God had never failed him, he stepped forward into an impossible situation and watched God perform a miracle through him.

Have you or I ever seen God fail?  Haven’t we known his blessings time and time again?  Why would we dare to think there might come a time or a situation in which God might not be there to be our everything to get us through anything?  Is anything too hard for God?  Is He unable at any time to be our courage and our wisdom or to fill us with His peace and His guidance?

There are many giants of trouble and despair in our lives, but is even one too big for our mighty God?

Too Tired To Stand

Remember those times when you’re full of strength and courage; a resilience vibrates in your inner spirit?  Remember, too, those times when life pulls the rug out from under your feet?  Plans are dashed and you’re left bewildered.  Your brain tells you to keep going on while your body and spirit wilt beneath the load.

I was reminded this week that those feelings came upon Moses while he was in charge of leading the Israelites on their wilderness journey.  Enemies would often come upon them.  Moses was the leader, and  God equipped him to point the way and encourage the people.

Exodus 17 tells the story of a time they came under attack from the army of Amalek.  Moses carried a staff which was a symbol of God’s authority and of His strength and protection.  As Amalek’s army was coming upon them, Moses instructed Joshua to lead his men to engage in battle against Amalek.  While they were warring, Moses stood on a nearby hill and held the staff up high.  What an encouragement to his men; this visual reminder,  that God was leading the battle.

As it happened, as the conflict went on and on, Moses’ arms were growing tired.   When he would lower the staff to rest his arms, the enemy would suddenly start winning; however, when Moses would again raise the staff, the Israelites would take the lead.  Hour after hour the hostilities raged between the two armies.  Moses held up the staff until he was utterly exhausted.  His muscles gave way.  We read in Exodus 17:12-13, “Moses’ arms finally became too tired to hold up the staff any longer.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on.  Then they stood on each side, holding up his hands until sunset.  As a result, Joshua and his troops were able to crush the army of Amalek.”

What a beautiful reminder of how God made us a family; brothers and sisters, with the love of God in our hearts to encourage and assist each another.   When one of us despairs, we can rally around, holding up arms in prayer, holding up arms in helps, holding up arms in words of encouragement, holding up arms in reminders of God’s love and direction.  No one need fall helpless below a heavy burden.  All God’s people have the responsibility to gather round and lift up the heavy hearted, bind up the wounds of those hurting, and urge on the discouraged.

When we look around us, asking God to give us His eyes to see those who are troubled in heart, He will show us, and He will help us with His own strength and wisdom, to hold up the arms of the weary, spurring them on as they rest.  Then, He will fill us will great joy for having done so.

 

Beyond Our Biggest Dreams

When we want something so badly that we feel we will burst if it doesn’t happen, the disappointment of it not coming to pass can be deep and lasting.  It’s hard when dreams are dashed and hopes for some achievement slips away.  Perhaps we pray like never before, begging God to “pleeeeeeease let this happen or give me this particular something.”  We try to whip up faith, unwittingly attempting to impress God on the magnitude of that faith, in order that He will surely do as we ask.  Ever felt that way or behaved that way?  I have a sneaky feeling that we have all tried to outmaneuver God on the “ask and you will receive” promise.

We certainly can ask and receive.  It is a promise of God, but never forget, what we receive is always in accordance with His will for our lives, and His will for our lives, is always for our very best.  Therefore, sometimes when we ask for something, with all the faith in the world, God says, “No.”  King David had such an experience.  It is recorded in the Old Testament in II Samuel.

David had been richly blessed by God.  He had been a great warrior and became the King of Israel.  He fought and defeated the Philistines, retrieved the Ark of the Covenant and returned it to Jerusalem.  It bothered David that there was no proper home for the Ark.  The Ark of God’s presence was a mere tent.

Therefore, David desired to build a temple in which to house the Ark.  His intentions came out of love; they were honorable.  In David’s gratitude he wanted to build a beautiful temple; more beautiful that any tent — but God said, “No.”  David’s yearning to build a temple was strong.  Therefore, imagine the depth of disappointment when God forbid him to carry out his dream.

It was a good dream.  Why wouldn’t God say yes to a good dream, especially when the motivation was love and thankfulness?  There are many things we do not understand concerning the plans and methods of God.  Sometimes, as we mature and learn more about Him, we begin to comprehend some of His ways.  At other times, we have to accept that we may not fully grasp the ‘why’ of something until we get to heaven.

In David’s situation, he would come to appreciate God’s reasons with time.  You see, David had been a warrior, shedding blood, and no one who had shed blood could build a temple to God.  It was in God’s will that David be a warrior.  We all have different functions, and when appointed by God, they are all honorable and needed.  While David was equipped by God to be a warrior and a king, he was not equipped by God to build a temple.

Even so, with time, David would come to understand and he would be filled with tremendous joy, recognizing that, yes, God’s ways are always the best ways.  You see, first of all, God chose David’s son, Solomon, to build the temple.  Aren’t you who are parents, thrilled to bits when your children get to accomplish things that you never could?  Imagine David’s pride in his son.  Second, it was in God’s plan that David would write Psalms, and unlike the temple, the Psalms would last for eternity.

David had a dream.  God said,  “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.'”    Isaiah 55:8-9

Truth and Mercy

My father once said to me, “Truth is what Jesus is; mercy is what Jesus does.”  He went on to explain that many people miss the mercy of God because they reject the truth of God.  So many people live in spiritual blindness to the wonderful bounty that is theirs for the asking.

Over the many years that I have travelled to and worked in Central Asia, there are always beggars found along the streets.  They are not hard to find.  They sit and wait for someone to drop a few coins their way.  When they see someone approaching they often look up expectantly, hoping they will be given something to ease their hunger of the day.

There is a story in Mark 10 about a beggar.  His name is Bartimaeus.  He was poor and he was also blind.  The story goes that one day Jesus came to the town of Jericho.  Bartimaeus lived on the outskirts.  When Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was walking by, he did not hesitate; he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  There were those standing nearby who tried to quieten him, but he would not relent.  He shouted louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

We don’t know how Bartimaeus ever heard of Jesus, but one thing is evident; he knew who Jesus was, and he believed in what Jesus could do, so he called to him.  What follows is important for us to pay attention to:  In verse 49 Jesus said, “Tell him to come here.”  Next we read of the response by Bartimaeus as we see in that same verse, “Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.”  What is vital here to our understanding?  Bartimaeus knew he had a need.  He was blind and he was poor.  He also knew who could help him.  He believed Jesus to be the truth; therefore, he called upon Jesus for mercy.

In this world, you and I are the very same in a spiritual sense.  At some point in our lives we become aware that we are blind to the truth of what can satisfy us in this life, and we are poor in what we need.  Then there comes a time when we hear about Jesus.  Suddenly, our blind eyes are opened.  We believe in the truth of Jesus and we know we need His mercy.  We have a choice:  call out as Bartimaeus did, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Or, we can ignore the opportunity and remain in our blindness and poor state.

Take note that when Bartimaeus called, Jesus invited him to come.  Jesus didn’t say, clean yourself up first.  He didn’t say, you are not worthy.  No, Jesus said to Bartimaeus what He is still saying today — come as you are and I will make you whole.  Notice also that when Jesus called for him to come, Bartimaeus “threw aside his coat.”  In other words, he threw aside his old life, ready to receive the new life that Jesus had available to him.

In verse 52 we read that Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go your way.  Your faith has healed you.”  That incident is a physical picture of what is available to us spiritually.  We are all born blind and poor.  There is a void in our lives.  We try so many things to fill the void, grasping for something or someone to bring us lasting peace and contentment.  We search and search until finally, one day, we hear the good news that Jesus is near!  What must we do to be rid of all the burdens that weigh us down?  How can we be free of the confusion that fills our minds?  Like Bartimaeus, we only need believe and call out, “Jesus, have mercy on me!”  When a sincere heart calls to him, the answer will always be, “Your faith has made you whole.”

Jesus always takes us as we are; amazingly and lovingly, He never lets us stay that way.

Mountains and Valleys

Don’t you love being on top of the world!  The air is fresher, the beauty unspoiled.  Tranquility greets us at every turn.  We visit the mountains and tell ourselves that we wish we could live there forever.

A few of Jesus’ disciples experienced that very feeling when they were taken to the Mount of Transfiguration.  The story is recorded in Luke 9.  While there they saw Moses and Elijah.  Can you imagine their overwhelming excitement at such an experience?  They must have been about to explode with the thrill of it all.  In fact, in their enthusiasm, they had a suggestion for Jesus.  They said to Him in Luke 9:33, “It is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”   They meant well, but what they failed to understand is that God’s tabernacles are not stationary objects; they are meant to be moving.

You and I are God’s tabernacles today.  He lives within us by the very power of His Holy Spirit.  His desire is that all should come to understand and know who He is and that He can take broken lives and make them whole, no matter the scars already sustained in life’s battles.  God desires that everyone come to know that He can give all the strength they need, all the courage, all the wisdom, all the guidance, all the peace.   They only need come to Him, and you and I, as His tabernacles,  have the privilege of pointing the way.

If we all stayed on the mountaintop, reveling in the sheer excitement of what we experience there, and refused to go back down to the valley, then how would others know what God has to offer them?  You see, it’s in the valley that tragedies take place, where grief occurs, where pain stabs at our hearts.  It’s in the canyons of despair and the ravines of strife that Jesus longs to shine the light of His love and hope into all of life’s hurting places.

You and I are renewed on the mountain that we may then descend, sharing the hope and love of God Almighty.  When one life is changed in the valley, that they, too, may ascend the mountain, it puts climbing down every gorge into proper perspective.  Take joy in the mountain but never refuse the valley for it is there that the whispers of God are often heard best.

 

Upon This Rock

Before my father left earth for heaven, he told me that all his sermons, his Bible lessons, everything he had ever written, would be mine; he further said that he hoped it would be a blessing to me.  For those of you who knew my father and who were also blessed by his teachings, you will understand when I say that a million dollars would have greatly paled in comparison to the inheritance he left me in both his written teachings and in the example of the life he lived before me.

I often read and study his notes.  The revelation that God gave to him blesses me with encouragements for my own walk with God.  I was recently reading his notes on Matthew 16 and was challenged by the following which my father takes from John 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”  Following is a teaching from my father, Dr. Chuck Blair:

“Jesus had a conversation with Peter in Matthew 16:13:20.  There is a very interesting, and often misunderstood comment by Jesus, in verse 18.  Jesus says to Peter: ‘I’m going to single you out as a stone from the rock.  You are going to be my spokesman.  But Peter, when I build my church, I won’t build it on a stone — I need the whole rock.  I need all of you.  It will be upon the unified work of the church that hell will be hampered and that the program of God will be furthered.’  Take note that, although Jesus was speaking to Peter, He was referring to the whole of the church.  Jesus was not giving a charge to a single person; He was giving a charge to all of us.  Let us ponder further:

If I was the devil, and it was the unified movement of many stones coming together to make a spiritual house that would contain the power to knock over the purposes of Satan — what would be my primary goal?  TO CAUSE DISUNITY AMONG THE STONES!  If it takes the many stones coming together to make the one rock upon which Jesus will build His church, then what the devil wants to do is to keep these stones from coming together.

Now, we can look at every book of the New Testament from Acts onward and we will see one underlying problem in the church; it is the problem of unity.  That’s why Jesus prayed in John 17 that, ‘they might be one even as we are one,’ because Jesus knew that, in order for the church to achieve the goal of stopping the onslaught of hell, the church would have to be moving in harmony and in unity.

When there is no harmony and unity in the church, there is no power in the church.  When there is no power in the church, then the church cannot promote the program of God.  Now, some mistakingly read verse 18 as the gates of hell are trying to overpower the church, but that Christ will keep the gates of hell from doing this.   When we read it that way, it puts the church on the defensive, hell is on the offensive, and we are just trying to hold on.  Not so!  This verse is not talking about hell knocking over the church — but the church knocking over hell.  It is not talking about you hanging in there while Satan knocks you down.

This verse is teaching us that, if we will put our personalities aside, focus instead on coming together for the purpose of My (God’s) church and My (God’s program) and My (God’s) Word, then the gates of hell won’t stop it.

Why do the gates of hell appear to be stopping the church today?  Because, for the most part, we are not building His church; we are building our church!  Jesus is not going to help us build our church.  If we are building our church and not God’s church, Satan can do a number on us because Satan is stronger than we are.

If, however, we are building God’s church, then Satan has to take on Jesus, and Satan can’t handle Jesus.  Satan is always weaker than Jesus.  We must always be asking ourselves: Whose church are we building?  If we are building our church, then we are on the defensive; but, if we are building God’s church, then we are on the offensive.

If we are on the offensive, then it is not hell knocking us over as we struggle to stand up and fight; it’s us rolling over hell, for as Jesus said, ‘all the power of hell will not conquer it.’

I hope you have been as blessed, lifted up, and challenged, as I have been by this teaching. How thankful I am to my heavenly Father for having given such wisdom to my earthly father.  May we all stand together with the unified goal to build God’s church through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.  We are then a formidable force, allowing God to bring about His purposes in our lives.

 

 

A Little Girl’s Imitation

Recently I took a friend’s dog for a walk in a nearby park.  It was a beautiful day, and though cool and windy, people were out and about enjoying the  welcome sunshine and blue skies.  Teenage boys were kicking a ball, smaller children were swinging, older people were strolling about or sitting on benches, obviously enjoying both the welcome warmth of the winter sun and the sounds of children playing.

On one bench, there sat a young mother.  A buggy, with a very small and snuggly wrapped sleeping baby, was at her side.  A  dog on a long leash, tied to the buggy, was enjoying his sniffing pursuits.  A little girl sat on the bench next to her mother.

I noticed the little girls hands moving furtively in front of her.  It seemed a strange gesture.  It kept me staring.  What was she doing?  How odd.  As I neared, all became clear.  Her mother was knitting.  The little girl had found two thin sticks and she was “knitting” too, doing her best to copy the movements of her mother’s hands.  It wasn’t at all a bad imitation.  One day, I thought to myself, the little girl will no doubt be knitting for real, replicating her mother’s work.

That’s what happens to us in our spiritual endeavors.  We cannot display the character of our heavenly Father in our lives, unless we try.  We cannot know His ways and how to walk in them, unless we make the attempt.  We cannot grow in His wisdom, unless we practice the above.  We learn and grow stronger in the things of God by our resolute imitation of Him and His ways.

Like the little girl copying her mother’s knitting movements, we must imitate the ways of our Father before we can walk in the freedom of His ways, display His character in our lives, or recognize the wisdom of His guidance.  It all takes practice.  It all takes imitation to set us on the path to the real thing happening in our lives.

The Apostle Paul encouraged us in Ephesians 5:1-2.  “Imitate God in everything you do, because you are His dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.”  

 

“Daaaaaaddy!” The Cry Came Again.

Last week I was spending the night at a lovely apartment that is located on a quiet street with a little lake on the grounds.  It’s always been such a peaceful place and I’m very thankful for it.  I love staying in this place.  On this particular night as I was sleeping soundly in my bed,  I was suddenly awakened by the cry of a child.  

“Daaaaddy!”  I stirred and strained to listen.  The voice came from the apartment upstairs.

“Daaaaady!” The cry came again.  This time I could hear the tears and fears in the call.  Then I heard hard footsteps running down the hall.

“Shuuuuut up!”  An angry voice shouted.  My body froze, breaths were shallow, nerves tight as I lay there stunned at what I was hearing.

The child cried out again and the voice shouted once more, “I said, shuuuut up!  Now!”  Silence.  Fear flooded my senses. I could feel my eyes staring wide into the darkness unable to blink.   After several agonizing seconds that seemed near an eternity, the footsteps returned to the other room.  I heard no more cries but I could not go back to sleep.

I lay there and prayed for the child.  As the minutes passed, my own nerves began to relax from its tension.  My mind wandered to thoughts of my own earthly father.  Never in a million years would my father have shouted at me to shut up.  Never would he have been filled with anger at my call to him.  He would have come quickly to offer comfort.  He would have sought to soothe my fears.  

I realize that there are many in the world who never had a father like mine.  Sadly, there are those who had a father like the one with the heavy footsteps and the angry shouting voice to “shut up!”  Such an angry earthly father could understandably mar one’s feelings toward their spiritual Father.

To those reading this, did you have a kind and protecting father or did you have an angry father that made you afraid to call to him for help.  If your experience with your earthly father was a negative one, may I encourage you that Almighty God is a Father of perfect love, at all times, and He invites you to call to Him at anytime.  Are you afraid?  Call.  Are you lonely?  Call.  Never hesitate.  Call.  He is on the ready to come to you.

He gave a beautiful promise to us in Psalm 91:15, “When they call on me I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honor them.”  

Never forget, whatever your experience with your earthly parents, your Heavenly Father is always there for you, holding your best interests in His heart — always!  Please call.  He will come.