Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for them that love him.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Embracing Your Cross

All Christians are familiar with and occasionally mention this Biblical quote, "Take up your cross."

Here is the full quote from Jesus (Luke 9: 23-24):

And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.

What does this mean?  We say it.  We should know what it means.  

It is not simply a matter of fatalistic suffering.

The cross is an instrument of immense suffering resulting in death.  To take up our crosses daily is to die, daily, to our very selves.  It is to accept pain, suffering, and death to be as much a part of God's plan for our salvation as comfort, peace, and life.

We humans think everything should be rosy.  We think that "goodness" and "suffering" are mutually exclusive.  "If it feels good, do it," is our motto.  "Pursuit of happiness" is our sacrament.

It is natural for us to feel this way.  We were created, ultimately, for heaven.  Our hearts long for their heavenly home which is perfect.  In fact, even our earthly home was, originally, a beautiful garden.  To accept pain and death seems unnatural.  


So what happened?

Through the sin of our first parents, suffering and death entered humanity (Gen 3: 17-19; Rom 5:12).  We are fallen.  This must have shocked God, who created us to enjoy perfect love in heaven.  How was He to allow us, fallen and sinful, into heaven, where nothing unclean can enter?  That darned Eve ruined everything...


John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This is, perhaps, the most well known verse in Scripture.  God's plan, known to Him from the very beginning, included His incarnation, torture, and death.  Through the greatest evil, Deicide, God brings forth our greatest good, salvation.  

This wasn't a simple legal transaction.   Christ was not simply our scapegoat, taking on our iniquities before execution.  

Jesus demonstrated, for us, perfect love and humble obedience.  

The sin of Adam and Eve was not a result of God's bias against apples.  They gave in to pride and disobedience.  They bought the lies of the adversary and put their will before God's will.  They disobeyed the one simple rule God gave them.

In stark contrast, Jesus was "obedient unto death, even death on a cross."  Phil 2:8

This was no simple instruction like you can eat anything except that fruit.  This was the ultimate act of obedience and love.  God's plan was brutal torture and death.  Jesus even prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." Mt 26:39

Jesus humbly accepted the will of the Father.  We must do the same.   We must trust that God's plan is perfect.  We must trust when He promises, "All things work for good for those who love God."

We must embrace our crosses, humbly accepting God's plan in our lives.


Rejoice

In Col 1:24 Paul states,  "Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church...."  

We can join our sufferings and pains to Christ's infinite sacrifice on the cross.  Through Christ, they become redemptive.  For this, we can rejoice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

GOOD Grief -- Part One

I have decided to tackle a most important topic.  I might take several posts to say all I want to say about it.  The information available to people in the midst of it is limited to countless sources all saying the same thing.

In our society, death is both pursued for the greater good (euthanasia and abortion) and avoided like the plague.  Death has become something we think we can control.  It has become very clinical.  At the same time, society has moved away from healthy spirituality.

The fact is, we can turn off machines (or on as the case may be), but we still do not control death.  Reports of near death experiences that defy simple explanation should give pause to those who deny life after death.  It is a great irony that an event that can cause the greatest turmoil is treated as no big deal.  We see death all the time in movies and television.  It is generally treated as inconsequential (unless the movie has grief as a theme).  Yet, when confronted personally and individually with death, we find that it is of enormous consequence.  The self help books offer little comfort.

Having been there several times under various circumstances, I would like to offer an alternative view.  The topic about which I am writing is grief - specifically grief following the death of a loved one.


Grief

It is mysterious.

It is lonely.

It is inevitable.

Almost all people will have cause to grieve at some point in their lives.  It is one of the most profound, yet misunderstood processes in all of humanity.  It is not a simple matter of sadness, even substantial sadness.  Grief effects the griever on all fronts and in ways not evident even to the griever.


To the griever,

Take care of yourself.  Your life, as you knew it, has ended.  By the time you emerge from grief, you will find that you are a different person.  This is not to be taken lightly.  Be gentle with yourself.  Seek spiritual guidance.  This is important because death is our first real encounter with non-earthly life.  Until we experience the death of a loved one, death is not really real to us.  Now we must face it and all it means.  Without theologically sound spiritual guidance we can be left confused and empty.

People will try to help you.  Let them.  It is a work of mercy and is good for their soul to help you.  Tell them what you need and let them do it.  It is good for your soul as well.

People will sometimes say the wrong thing.  Please realize that they are hopelessly ignorant and cannot help themselves.  They do not know what to say so they are relying on things they've heard or read.  They genuinely want to comfort you, but genuinely have no idea what they are doing.  Don't let it eat at you that they are clueless.  Unless and until people allow death back in to the conversation, the ignorance will persist.



GOOD Grief?

How can something so very terrible be good?

The night before I buried by beautiful little boy, I could not sleep.  Dale and I had left home and traveled to Alabama where Gabriel was to be buried in the family plot.  We were staying at my uncle's house.  It was the middle of the night and I didn't want to wake Dale, so I went and sat in the bathroom for a few minutes to think.

And think.

And think.

After some time I decided that God wouldn't leave us out in the cold on this.  He talks about everything else at great length in the Bible.  Surely He would advise people on death and grief.

I wandered around in the dark in a strange house looking for a Bible until I found one.

Then I started to search.  I was right.  God says a lot to us through the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 12 we find the story of King David losing his baby:

And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground.  And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.  On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, "Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm."  But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" They said, "He is dead."  Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD, and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food."  He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?'  But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me." 

This line in 1 Thess. 4 remains with me:  But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

Jesus then blessed me:  Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.  Mt 5.

Wow.  I could stop right there.  As one who mourns, I am blessed.  Still, I have to remember to "not grieve as the unbelievers who have no hope."

We have hope.  What does that mean?

I know that Gabriel is where he was created to be and where I yearn to be.  If this is so, and I truly believe it, is this not cause for joy, in spite of and in the midst of my grief?


Next:  Embracing Your Cross