Archives For loss

A Servant’s Heart

December 17, 2013 — 4 Comments

servantWhat can I say about my friend, Mark Thompson? He’s a great guy! Everyone that meets him loves him pretty much straight away. I met Mark my first day at OBU, in 1988. I think it was September – it was hot that’s all I know. I was walking out of the GC (student center) and he was walking in. I don’t know why we started talking, except for that’s kinda what Mark does – he just strikes up conversations with strangers, and it’s like you’ve known him all your life.

I found out that my youth pastor who just left my church had gone to his church – so we had something in common right off the bat. Then we talked more and had a lot more in common and just became friends. He has been a blessing to me for the last 25 years, and I hope there’s 50 more coming.

Mark is a hospice chaplain – has been for about 10 years. He helps those who are dying, and those who are left behind. I know this because I’ve seen it – he grieves with them and for them and guides them through every bit of it. He’s been there for me, as a minister and a friend on two occasions – once with my Grandmother, and more recently, when my Dad died.

So what more can I say? Mark’s been a youth pastor, senior pastor, chaplain, professional wrestler, and a missionary. He’s a husband and a father. And he’s awesome at all of it. He’s knocked me out cold twice with folding chairs, which is a whole other story. He once ate a bowl of the foulest stuff I could put together at the college cafeteria, for $10. He loves Jesus, he loves people, and he loves serving both. Mark has a servant’s heart.

Recently he wrote a letter to those who are grieving this time of year – and there are many. The following words shout hope from the highest hills – they cry out, “God loves you, no matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve done.” They proclaim that God has a plan and that we are His and that He delights in blessing and caring for those who are His – Please be blessed as you read the following -

April 21, 1997 – a day in my family’s life that will be remembered for all of our lives. Betty Lou Thompson passed away at 11:33 PM. Many people in Tulsa, Oklahoma weren’t aware. Most of the state of Oklahoma didn’t know. But we did. A husband did. Children did. Grandchildren did. A mother did. Friends did.

I was 27 years old when my mom died. 27 is too young to lose your mom…so I thought. Yet in 25 years of ministry having conducted hundreds of funerals, I have seen families struggle loosing a parent of 95, 98, 101.

My mom was 54 years old when she died. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer 18 years prior, and two years before she died, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Why? I had prayed for her healing. Our family prayed. We begged God for her healing. Why would He not hear our prayers? Did He even hear our prayers? Did he even care??? Real hurts, real questions. God gave real answers.

You, like me, had people offer well meaning anecdotes. She is in a better place. She isn’t suffering any longer. Time will heal your pain and wounds.

I didn’t care. I didn’t want her to be in a better place! I wanted her with us!

People are well meaning but sometimes their words can hurt. Sometimes silence would have been better.

I had a group of friends from Oklahoma City drive over to Broken Arrow to spend some time with me. We played basketball. We sat on the couch. We talked, we cried. We went to lunch. I still hurt. I still hurt….with all of their well meaning words. But…I didn’t hurt like I did when she died…I had been able to laugh and smile.

Psalm 30:5 tells us “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Joy. Joy is a a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

In the greatest teaching ever – The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus shares these words with us – Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are they who mourn…for they will be comforted.” That word blessed in the Greek language means happy. HAPPY? Happy are those who mourn? YES…why? Because they will be comforted! Comfort is defined as a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. I have the hopes of being freed from my pain? Yes!

Years ago we went to my uncles house to visit. He had a stone retaining wall. We had a habit of walking on it when we would visit. After many years, it began to deteriorate and the stones and concrete cylinders began to become loose. We had been warned not to play on it. But we did what kids do…we did it anyway! I was walking along and as I put one foot in front of the other, it happened. I fell, and a large cylinder fell on my knee and gashed it open really bad. For some reason, the adults heard my cries for help. Mom began to clean my wound. It hurt…bad. But she had to remove the gravel in my knee. Then she poured 4 bottles of hydrogen peroxide in the wound, and applied Neosporin and a gauze pad. My knee hurt bad and did for several days. Then the healing became more obvious. I developed a scab. Then the scab gave way to a scar. I still have those scars on my left knee. They are a reminder of that day in Stonewall, Oklahoma. I see it….and I remember.

For many of you today, your hurt is still fresh…it still stings. For others you are dealing with a scab. Yet others have a scar. You are reminded when you see it. For some of us, it’s everyday.

Isaiah 9:6 tells us, “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Prince of peace!

Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel – meaning God with us. God promised to never leave us and he won’t.

He didn’t leave me…He was with me…He sent friends to support me in the days following my mom’s death. Not only that but He has used my life to help others. He wants to use your hurt. God never wastes a hurt. Today, understand that God loves you, and He knows, and He cares. He really does. You may feel all alone, but you’re not.

I remember that first Mother’s day after mom died. I hurt worse and cried harder that I did when she died. Then Thanksgiving, then…..Christmas. The first Christmas without mom. It was weird. We tried to keep some of the same traditions. It is strange to go shopping and not shop for your loved one who is gone. We ate Christmas lunch, through tears. But we did it….we made it through the first Christmas.

Joel 2:25 tells us, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” God has been faithful. When my mom had died, I was single. I am now married  to an amazing woman with 3 amazing boys, ages 4 1/2, 2 1/2 and 9 months. God has brought so much joy back into my life! He has restored my hurt.

He cares about you!  He loves you! This year you may hurt more than you thought you had the capacity to hurt. Take it day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Don’t just listen to your heart….the Bible tells us our hearts are deceitful…listen to the spirit of God. Zephaniah tells us “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”  Just like when I walk in to watch my boys sleep and take delight in them, God, your Father watches over you. Take courage. Take a breath. Be loved. You will make it. It will hurt….the pain is real. Hold on to Jesus, He is holding on to you!

Song by Dennis Jernigan

It’s gonna be alright, child

Even through the darkest night, child

I’ll even use the darkness

To teach you how to hear Me

 

It’s gonna be alright now

Even if you don’t see how

I’ll even use your failure

To help you to draw near Me

 

Hear Me. I am calling,

“Child, come falling deeper in love with Me.”

Trust Me, you must let go

Or you will never know any deeper love in Me

 

It’s gonna be alright here

If you will let Me hold your heart near

I’ll even use your sorrows

To teach You how to love Me

 

It’s gonna be alright, child

I’ll hold you really close and tight child

I’ll even use Your woundings

To help you know more of Me

 

Hear Me. I am calling,

“Child, come falling deeper in love with Me.”

Trust Me, you must let go

Or you will never know any deeper love in Me

 

Why do you hold on to the things of your past

Let go and cling to Me and love that will last

How can you know Me if you do not trust My love

Let go! You’ll find My love is more than enough

 

See that face right there? That face says, “I will punch a wolf.” Nothing trumps Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson is Chuck Norris’ worst nightmare. He is the reason why Waldo is hiding. He finds your lack of faith disturbing.

With that being said, there’s a new Les Miserables coming out. I will see this movie. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean? Anne Hathaway as Fantine? Amanda Seyfried as Cosette? Heck yeah! It’s even got Sacha Baron Cohen in it! It’s not a question. My greatest hope is to live long enough to see this movie. And then I may enter eternal rest, fulfilled and happy.

Everyone knows the song that Fantine sang, right? “I Dreamed A Dream?” It’s a haunting, sad lament sung by a dying woman who wonders where life went so wrong. “There was a time when love was blind and the world was a song, and the song was exciting, then it all went wrong. I dreamed that love would never die, I dreamed that God would be forgiving…I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living. Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

I know that song. I’ve lived that song. Life killed my dream.

I’ve only wanted one thing, for as long as I can remember. My Grandmother use to pray over me when I was a child – “Make him your servant, Father.” And I wanted that more than anything.

I grew up in church, and everything my pastors did I watched and emulated. I studied the bible relentlessly. I checked out theology books from the church library when I was 11 years old and I even read them. I started making connections between common everyday events and spiritual things when I was even younger. I wanted my life to be a sermon. I wanted my life to be something special. I wanted to point people to God. It was my dream. Then life killed the dream I dreamed.

So many things have happened. So many people have hurt me, and I’ve done the same right back. I worked in churches for years, growing bitter, angry, being hurt and hurtful. The song was exciting – exciting to think about and dream about, but life itself was just all wrong. It was the same no matter where I went, no matter what my job was. I kept dreaming, kept hoping, kept believing that God would be forgiving, that he would bless me, and then that part of me died.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My life was a hell because of my dream. I pursued a dream and not God. His calling on my life was real, and he even planted that dream in my heart, but the dream was not worthy of being pursued. I bypassed the one who called me, the one who gifted me, and made my life all about the dream.

To be who God created me to be, that part of me had to die. The part that held onto the dream, the part that was self sufficient, the part that was created and sustained by my own will.

Your dream is not worthy of being pursued, but the one who gave you the dream is!

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, everything you do flows from it.”

Your heart’s desire should be the pursuit of a relationship with God. He is already pursuing you! When everything in your heart is right, everything that flows from you will be about him and not you. God will give you a dream and you’ll surrender it to him and he will give you all that and more.

Everything in your life should be an overflow, the excess of the abundance that God blesses you with because of your relationship with him. The dream is worthless, fruitless, without his blessing, and you can’t get God’s blessing. It’s not about not having road rage or working in a church. It’s not about the good you do or the lack of evil in your life. It’s all about resting in him. When you can rest in God, as his child, the dreams you dream will begin to come true.

My dreams died because I was never at rest, I never trusted, I went about making my dreams come true on my own. I, I, I. It was all about me, then that part of me got tired, sick, terminally ill. That part of me withered and died and was cut away. A new me emerged from that death, and God knows I’m still working it out, but at least I’m pointed in the right direction now – and that direction is one of being led by the giver of dreams.

How about you? Is the dream alive or is it dying on the vine? Is your relationship with God sustaining you or are you just barely hanging on, all alone?

Let it go! The dream is nothing without the dreamgiver. Your dream will die eventually anyway. Cut it loose now, sacrifice it at the feet of the one who can bring life from death. And after that part of you is gone, God will plant his dream in your heart and invite you to pursue him. If you do your dreams will all come true!

 

My wife Cheryl and her iPhones have a rich and wonderful history. Her first iPhone, a 3g, was fairly well abuse for years, culminating in being dropped in a toilet. It is now in the posession of my 5 year old daughter, who uses it as an iPod.

When the iPhone 4 came out, she just had to upgrade. We actually fought over who would get it first. I can’t remember who won that one, but I do remember being pretty childish about it. Friends would come up to us and show us their new phones and I would just melt. Then turn green with envy.

The day came when we both had our new phones and we were so happy. We spent our days on Facebook Mobile and Hootsuite, and our evenings texting each other from across the room.  Who could have know it would all be coming to an end so soon?

One day Cheryl went to lunch with some friends, it was a busy venue, and she left her purse at the table when they all walked out the door. It couldn’t have been more than 45 seconds, but that’s all it took. The purse, and the phone with it, were gone forever. Never mind the credit and debit cards, the social security card, the checkbook, the driver’s license. They were all secondary to the phone.

Cheryl went into a deep depression that lasted many months. Oh, she tried other mobile phones – cheap ones purchased at pawn shops and early 3g Windows Mobile Monstrosities given to her by friends who had cast them off like an old pair of golashes. Nothing worked for her.  Nothing would satisfy like the iPhone.

It got to where she couldn’t even be around me when I was using my phone. We had discussions about her seeing someone, getting some help, then something wonderful happened – the iPhone 4S. Now, we couldn’t afford one because we were still in the middle of a 2 year contract, but the new phone coming out meant that the prices for the old model would be dropping like baseball sized hail.

She scoured the internet looking for a sweet deal, we saved our pennies and even sold some things we had laying around the house that were going unused – a baby grand piano and our refrigerator. Not really. But the day came when she could make her purchase, and what a wonderful, glorious day it was! It was like the sun was shining again, and birds were singing, 10,000 red balloons were released, and the hopes and dreams of people everywhere came true all at once.  Cheryl had a new (to her) iPhone!

I wish I could say her iPhone trials came to a screeching halt at that point.  They did not, but they did take a different form. She doesn’t lose it in public any more, but she can’t ever remember where she put it when we are at home. We are always turning the place upside down looking for it, always in a blind panic, “Where’s my phone?!?” After all search and rescue techniques have been employed, we resort to the old stand-by – I dial her up and hope against hope that her ringer is on or the battery is not dead.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, have you ever lost something? I have. I’ve lost a lot, to be blunt. And if you’re honest, so have you. What would you do to recover that one very special lost item? Maybe it was your favorite blanket that you remember with a touch of the bitter sweet to this very day. Maybe it was a beloved pet, or an irreplaceable family heirloom. What did you go through when they were lost, and what would you give to have them back?

Think about this – God lost something once. He had us, and a terrible choice made thousands of years ago guaranteed we would be lost to him forever, unless something was done – something drastic.

Jesus alludes to this in the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. You should take a minute and read Luke 15.  Can you feel the desperation, the dejection? Can you feel what those people felt to have lost something so important? And how much more important are you to God than a sheep, or a coin? I think this is why the chapter ends with the prodigal son.

I know many people who have lost a child, either to having to let them go their own way, or in death. Both are heartbreaking, gut wrenching losses. Sometimes when I am in a disagreement with one of my little girls, I am getting a very small taste of this kind of loss. But to be God, and to lose all of creation – how much does his heart break for all of it, for all of us?

It hurt him so badly, so deeply that he was willing to sacrifice his own, and his only, son so that he could reclaim us. He paid that price, and he paid it dearly, because only by death can we truly be alive, as was intended from the beginning.  He lost us, but we can be found! We were bought with a terrible price, but to God, it was worth every drop of blood, every agonizing scream, every insult hurled, every blow, every stripe. He found us, and he bought us and now we are his.

What did the father of the prodigal do? He searched, he watched, he waited, and when the son was still a long way away, the father found him! The son made one move toward the father, and the father *ran* to him, embraced him, kissed him, treated him like royalty.

That is what our father God wants so much for each of us – to take just one step toward him – he will do the rest.  He’s already done the rest! All you have to do is turn his way! Nothing can separate you from the love of God! Not if that’s what you want – so the question is, what do you want? Are you lost? You can be found! No matter where you are, you are never too far away – turn to him and he will see, and he’ll come running and he will embrace you, he will make you his child, and he’ll seal it with a loving, forgiving kiss. That’s what I pray for all of you – that you’ll just turn his way, and watch as he completely changes everything in your life -just as he did for me, and for all the others who were lost and longed not to be.