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Jun 25, 2015

Bearing the Unbearable

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

Some things are unbearable, like inconsolable sorrow. The Bible tells us that Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some doctors tell us that the water mixed with blood which poured forth from the spear wound that pierced His side indicated Jesus died of a “broken” heart. There is little doubt that Jesus suffered unbearable sorrow for you and me. Some of us also have suffered unbearable sorrow. Such sorrow can be so severe, it can lead to death. One of the mothers of a PAYH graduate may well have died of grievous sorrow not long after her son was killed by a hit and run driver.
C.S. Lewis shares about his experience of unbearable sorrow in A Grief Observed, recounting the devastating, untimely death of his dearly loved wife and the sorrow it leveled on him. My daughter is experiencing such sorrow now in the death of her daughter. There is nothing, it seems, that can remove this burden, like words of solace or the concerned presence of a loving comforter. It is a burden which must be carried for an unfixed time, not knowing how long the burden must be borne, and whether it can be endured.
Lewis writes of his wife, “Her absence is like the sky; spread over everything,” and, “Aren’t all these notes [speaking of writing down notes of his grief] the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?” His expression of this unassuaged sorrow is perhaps a comfort to the one who reads him and thinks, “He is describing me,” but the sorrow continues nevertheless. As Lewis found, “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state, but a process.” And it is a process which impacts the grieving one in one way or another in the loss of their precious one for the rest of their earthly life. They may not remain in the intensity of their sorrow, but they never forget; a real part of them has been severed, and they will not return this side of eternity.
Yet as Lewis’ A Grief Observed has helped many a sufferer in the depths of their valley to understand grief and sorrow though not remove the suffering, so a child of the Heavenly Father who “shares so intimately in His Son’s sufferings” does not do so for no eternal purpose; you suffer in part to assist others in their sufferings. Your words of knowing love are heard by those grieving as though they want to die, whose hearts and ears are opened by the knowledge that their present sorrow is also one you know from personally living it. The one who grieves deeply must not waste their sorrows. Rather, speak as one with them into the sorrowing heart of a neighbor you are to love as yourself. You will not even in most cases have to search out those who have been thrust into the pit of grief; God will put them in your path.
Job underwent grievous suffering in body and soul for what purpose? To give to countless sufferers through the centuries encouragement in their tears that their suffering is not for naught; their suffering has an eternal purpose which may not be fully known until they see their Savior in His flesh face to face. All of us should be devoted students of the Book of Job, for the Bible warns us that in this life we will suffer. Job helps us understand something about its weight; not only its weighty burden, but its weighty meaning, its glory, which Lewis has titled “the weight of glory.” There is a glory in suffering and sorrow which may escape you now, but it will not in eternity. Weeping may endure for a night (as long as an earthly pilgrimage), but joy comes in the morning, on the day that the Son of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings (Malachi 4).
Do not allow sorrow and grief to destroy you, but trust the God who knows your sorrows and the Great High Priest who feels them with you (Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9).

“Come, ye disconsolate where’er ye languish, come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel: Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal.”
(1st verse of Thomas Moore’s hymn, “Come, Ye Disconsolate”, 1816)

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Jun 24, 2015

Fatherless Epidemic

Flying kites, throwing balls, a feeling of security, sometimes a strong word or a look; these are all memories that many of us have of our fathers.  Stop for a moment and think…What are yours?
Growing up as the son of a naval officer who was often gone for months on deployment, what I truly remember the most was him coming home.  When he returned from a long trip, I was no longer the only male at home, and I was no longer outnumbered by my mom and sister.  Dad did more than just even the male to female ratio in our house; he mattered to each of us for different reasons, but for all of us, he made our home complete.
We all have memories of our fathers.  Some are good while others are bad.  The examples they set, their presence, or absence, make an indelible impact on our lives.  In a culture that screams to every one of us that we are independent and don’t need anyone else, nature shouts in return that we are far stronger together than alone.  Corporations speak about the power of teams, and societies talk of building communities, so isn’t this fundamental reality the same within a home?  Moms, dads, and children – all matter because of the unique role that only they can play.
Unfortunately, what we see in society is many men no longer playing a critical part of that role.  “We make men without Chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)  The reality of “men without chests plays a part of their absence from the home, and the results are devastating.  Whatever the reasons are for many men removing themselves from the home, the impact is undeniable.
As an organization that exists to build generations of stronger families, we start with young men who need a second chance.  It would be easy to speak to the statistic on crime since fatherlessness is the single greatest predictor of incarceration.  But of all these numbers, the two that jump out to me are how youth do in school and their emotional health.  Dads matter in how boys and girls do in school.  Dads matter in how boys and girls feel about themselves.
Every day, we strive to shape men of character.  We strive to provide a Godly example to each young man entrusted to us of how they should act as men and how they should treat their own father.  Why? Because men matter and can make an absolute difference in this generation.  But that requires us as men to not act like dogs who are simply looking for their next meal or place to rest or sexual conquest.  Being a man is so much more (see articles here).  Youth today are looking for relationship.  We are to be connected to our children, in relationship with them.  Dads, love your children.  They are a part of you, and you are a part of them.  They are a living “fingerprint of you.  Dads matter; I want to be remembered by my children that way.

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Jun 22, 2015

Christian Post 2015 – Drew Read Discusses 'Instrumental' Value of Dads

Father’s Day Should Spotlight ‘Instrumental’ Value of Dads, Says COO of Charity for Young Men From Broken Families

June 21, 2015|8:43 am

A leader in a Georgia-based charity centered on helping young men from broken families turn their lives around, believes Father’s Day should focus on the “instrumental” value of dads.
On Sunday the United States will celebrate Father’s Day, an observance focused on remembering the value of fathers to the lives of their children.
Drew Read, chief operations officer for the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, told The Christian Post in a recent interview about how he hopes Father’s Day is honored.
“To look back at Father’s Day and say, ‘hey, men have value in society.’ Fathers play an instrumental role in raising their kids and they are a valuable part of the home equation,” said Read.
“One of the things that I would love to see people do is just respect theirs dad and say, ‘hey, this is what my dad did for me. This is the example he set, this is the impact he made on my life.'”
Read believes this was vital as recent years and decades have found multiple reasons for a decline of fathers in American homes.
“The idea that fathers are not necessary denies the ability of one single individual,” said Read to CP, adding that “there are things that are specifically male and there are things that are specifically female.”
“The idea of this independence, this autonomy that we have in America, lends itself to ‘I can do it myself,’ and I think we can look at the ramifications in society and say that’s not true.”
Read is in charge of the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian organization that seeks to help young men from broken backgrounds grow up to become strong husbands and fathers.
PAYH focuses its efforts on three concepts: Recovery, Restoration, and Redemption. Recovery focuses on helping men deal with issues pertaining to substance abuse and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Restoration focuses on education through play and work, as well as academics and religious devotion.
Finally the third component, Redemption, stresses the Christian nature of this philanthropy and spiritual edification for those in the Youth Home.
“Families give us a lot of different things between just financial security. They give us a sense of moral obligation, they give us a sense of morality, they give us a sense of social unit, they give us a sense of community,” said Read.
“Men have been lampooned in society to the point where we really are the buffoons. And in lots of ways I would say we should look back and say fathers should be loved. There’s much good about men in general.”

Drew Read
(Photo: Paul Anderson Youth Home) Drew Read, COO of the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Ga., is a passionate advocate for youth and strongly believes that the home is the foundation of society. Drew frequently speaks and writes on the topics of identity, technology, culture and high-risk behaviors affecting today’s youth.

View original article here.

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Jun 18, 2015

Life Measured as a Breath

“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” Psalm 39:5

Last week, my youngest granddaughter was born and three days later was in the arms of her Savior, and most probably the arms of her grandmother who died before seeing any of her grandchildren, and the arms of her aunt who died in birth in 1978. God knew Linnea and ordained her brief days (Psalm 139). In preaching her funeral homily and graveside service Monday, I spoke of one of the many lessons for us from her significant life: its brevity. Both hers and yours and my life are measured by God as “a breath,” same length for all. Can we see the correlation of “a breath” to, say, my sixty-nine years, or even more, my father’s almost 98? And you, as well, have a hard time seeing your life, somewhere between 16 and 98, as a single breath. So what is God about in describing our lifespan as a mere handbreadth or a single breath of air?
Certainly as a comparison to all of history, and especially all of eternity, it is like a breath. But is there more to it than just this comparison with infinity? Do you need to have God’s perspective, contemplating your life as brief, considering your many choices in life which fill out your days? What does such a perspective do in developing your world and life view? Does a life seen as brief impact the way you live? I have found in being around teen boys a lot and observing teenagers throughout my life, including being one once, that most of them feel and live as though they are indestructible and have an interminably long life in front of them. Unfortunately, they live as though this is irrefutably true, but it is not. It will have a detrimental effect in you in the long run, continually thinking you have many years, decades, a half century yet to live.
Such perspective encourages procrastination. “I do not need to get to doing this important thing right away because I have lots of time; I will get to it later.” There is a much greater earnestness to life when you see it as “time is precious.” Life demands prioritizing when it is seen in God’s perspective, through His eyes. The need to keep “the main thing the main thing” is much more urgent when life is viewed as “brief” and your main thing really is the main thing. It can rightfully be seen as a wise and Godly perspective because it is the very view God presents in the Scriptures.
The fact is in many, many cases, life is briefer than prepared for or even imagined. Too many of our PAYH graduates, more than we even imagined, have died from accidents not necessarily of their own making within a year or two, even months, after leaving our campus, with no expectation their life on earth would come to an end so soon. Not knowing the number of days God has ordained for you, how much better prepared you might be, without regrets, if you had viewed your life as potentially brief and lived accordingly. Even the staff at the Home were shocked that these lives so recently under their care and guidance were snatched from us so quickly.
The theme has been carried out in movies and novels and even real life that something or someone provides you knowledge that you have only a year to live. What do you do with this limited time running out like so much sand in an hourglass? Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman decided they wanted to live the experiences of their “bucket list”; so they did. What is your bucket list, if you have one? What determines its contents? All bucket lists are built based on world view. If your view is “this is all there is,” annihilation is what happens at your death, your list will be wrapped up with dreams of this world and nothing beyond. If your view is that there is something beyond, I would think you would focus on readiness for beyond and how to best prepare for crossing that threshold. What will I face in the life beyond death? Some believe there is something but do not know much about it; they think they will cross that bridge when they come to it. I imagine they think, “It will all pan out.” But to what Scripture or authority do they look for certainty of such assumptions? Others have an assurance of the place and nature of their eternal destination. So this projected and diagnosed final year of your life would be lived according to your personal world and life view.
Most of us do not receive such a diagnosis. If it is a fast moving, incurable disease, much of the time is spent in the constraints of dying with the medical world surrounding you. Even then, such time can be used very usefully preparing for your life after death; so far preferable than frittering away your last days because you have no knowledge your life may be cut short, and God’s ordained days for you are far less than you thought; for who knows the number of your days other than God?
Consequently, your view of the world and life will determine how you use the number of days pre-determined for you. Without any certain knowledge your life will be a long one, it would be wise to concentrate rather on the brevity of life as God describes this life in passages like Psalm 39:5. If he gives you 98 years like my father, so much the better in the wise use of all your actual days as if they were under self-imposed time constraints. Your regrets, if any, will be small because you consider your time as a precious God-given gift; and what a good thing that is! The Psalmist says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) The practical outcome of numbering them rightly is numbering them as precious, because they are rare, taking into account God’s description of their brevity ; so you concentrate on what is truly important for the next life. In this life, we have a finite number of days with the sole purpose of preparing for the infinite days of eternity. “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4)
My granddaughter’s 3 days were used wisely; she lived them with perfect fulfillment of exactly what God ordained for her, and she will have no regrets before her Father in heaven. I do not say this facetiously; she was blessed, we are challenged. As Jesus’ letters to us in Revelation 2-3, to those who live beyond childhood, “How blessed are those who overcome (conquer)!” Conquering the challenges, the tests of your faith, is set before you all your days. If you fix your mind on the brevity of those days, you will not waste days thinking you can make it up among the many you believe are left. They may not come to pass.
With a “brevity of life” view, your days will be more treasured, less common, and more focused on eternal preparation, seeing God has a purpose for all your days. God tells you we love Him by loving your neighbor as yourself. Make your days a fulfillment of this. Entering eternity should not be a shock, but an always eagerly anticipated and welcomed part of your days. It is a very good thing your life is in God’s hands; live knowing it is.

“God has given, He has taken, but His children n’er forsaken; His the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy.”
(4th verse of Carolina Sandell’s hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father”, 1855)

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Jun 11, 2015

What Is Going to Happen to Me?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

The very heart of anxiety’s concern has to do with your own real or potential predicament; it is the crucial question of Eliza in My Fair Lady, “What is going to become of me?” Anxiety, that ugly six letter word “stress,” always takes a massive toll on your health. Your Creator who knows your makeup far better than any doctor is all too well aware of its lethal dangers. Jesus was truly displaying a matchless love for you in Matthew 6 when He addressed your anxiety with, “Do not worry!” Is it even conceivably possible to obey Him in this, just as our Lord’s whole Sermon on the Mount appears to present an unattainable way of life? In speaking this command, it seems like Jesus could just as well have said, “Do not breathe”; anxiety is just that common and seemingly as impossible to avoid. How many of you can admit you never once worried today? It is the way life is lived in our society; constantly swimming in a stew of stress.
Just what is Jesus’ intent in telling you not to worry? What is the good of giving you an impossible-to-fulfill command? As a natural sinner in a fallen world, can you truly conquer the sin of worry? It is not hard to accept the dictum that a big part of your life is experiencing the stress worry produces.  There are numerous reasons for anxiety: money, health, security, responsibilities, relationships, guilt, well-being of loved ones. The focus of Matthew 6:25-34 is primarily whether or not you will be fed, clothed, and housed. But Philippians 4:6 encompasses just about everything and anything which causes anxiety. “Do not be anxious FOR ANYTHING!” As Proverbs says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down,” and such a weight eventually will cause the collapse of the person carrying it.
Worry is inevitable but is a condition according to Jesus which can be immediately remedied; this is the point of Jesus’ instruction. Worry and anxiety do their damage when they persist. When they are cut off at the root, immediately when springing up, as faith and trust in the promises and strength of the Lord are reflexively applied, they are defanged, and the poison is rendered harmless. They are replaced by the inexplicable peace of God, defying explanation or understanding. Nevertheless, peace is experienced; a real and palpable peace, not a trick of the mind. Going from the trauma of worry and fear to the amazing condition of peace in crisis or even common everyday problems is THE encourager which makes life worth living. The conundrum is this: In the face of the immediate cause of your worry and anxiety, how do you transfer your attention to God who is invisible and away from the cause which is all too visible and all too present and is not disappearing? The truth is the problem or cause of worry doesn’t just vanish; it is still there. But something real occurs in your heart and mind which transforms the threat from hurtful to conquerable; peace results. God has my back. He is in control, and His control intends your good. (Romans 8:28)
Remember the historical account in 2 Kings 6 of Elisha and his servant when the King of Aram sought to capture Elisha at the city of Dothan. The servant woke up in the early morning, saw the city was completely surrounded by the army of Aram, intent on their capture and death, and he was terrified. Talk about anxiety! Elisha asked God to open his servant’s eyes so he could see what Elisha was seeing. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” he said. Then the servant’s eyes were opened to see the hills filled with horses and chariots of fire between them and the army of Aram. In many places of Scripture, God reveals this very same truth in that He is a fortress, a place of refuge, a cleft in the rock, an invincible protector of those who trust in Him. It is just that we are too like Elisha’s servant in the face of trouble, instead of like Elisha. “These things [in Scripture] are written as examples for us,” we read in 1 Corinthians 10; these are not circumstances peculiar to Bible characters; these are living examples of God protecting His children in the face of troubles and adversities; for all who seek refuge in Him, anytime and everywhere. These examples are for your confidence, an encouragement to action; “Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) You do not do it because you do not trust it works. The cause of your fears is apparently bigger than God. Consequently, your anxiety is ill spent, for there is nothing bigger than God. Your faith needs to gauge exactly who God is and what He has said.
In his Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis writes, speaking for Screwtape, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants man to be concerned with what they do; our [Screwtape and his Devils’] business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.” Lewis goes on to say those who trust in God are called by Him to be patient in the face of adversity, claiming by faith, “Your will be done,” and asking for the daily bread He provides, which is always more than sufficient. Your anxiety is indeed due to your fear and belief that what will happen to you is not going to be good. God is concerned with what you are going to do in the face of trial: trust in Him, or fear He will fail you.
You never need to be concerned about having enough opportunities to test the truth of God’s call to not be anxious; but in all your anxiety, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, cast all your worry on Him. You will get the opportunity every day to test His prescription for worry, in little and big concerns. The more you do, the more you see Him come through exactly as He promised, the more instinctive your faith to immediately cast!

“Thou hidden source of calm repose, thou all sufficient love divine, my help and refuge from my foes, secure I am if thou art mine: and lo! from sin, and grief, and shame I hide me, Jesus, in thy Name.”
(1st verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose”, 1749)

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Jun 04, 2015

Whose Are Your Children?

“You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16

Next Tuesday, my granddaughter, already named after her aunt and mother, Linnea Dagney, is due to be delivered by C-section. She is most probably a Trisomy 18 baby according to the many ultrasounds throughout her life in the womb. You can check the internet for symptoms of Trisomy 18 if you are unfamiliar. Thus far she has survived the womb, where she could have died already. She could also not survive a month out of the womb; then again, she could live much longer. Former US Senator Rick Santorum and his wife have a Trisomy 18 daughter named Bella who has lived seven years thus far, been on TV, and has a published book about her by her father and mother. Bella lived beyond the womb though many doctors insist such as Bella be terminated.
I bring this up in SFTD for this purpose: Little Linnea reminds us parents of a very important truth. Our children are not ours; they are God’s. We parents are the stewards and guardians of our children whom God has created and formed and placed in our care. As guardians and nurturers of whom God places in our care, we answer to Him for our responsibility in their outcome. Kings answer for their subjects, teachers for their pupils, pastors for their parishioners, doctors for their patients, presidents for their citizens; but no one has the intimacy of relationship, the personal time provided for molding,  the natural power of instinctual tie of parent and child, as parents, graced by God with eternal beings to rear. Parents can rightly be most held to account to God for their success or failure.
Parents are often a bit incoherent in their claims about their children: They claim they are theirs alone, their success is something for which to take all the credit,  their failures are someone else’s fault, their bad health is due to fate, their good health is because of your genes or your choice of their diet and exercise, their troubles are the fault of your inability to always keep your eyes on them and some bad influences over which you have no control, their personal faith is…well, up to God.
But when a child is conceived, other than an imperfect ultrasound, only God sees their unformed substance. Only God knows every day ordained for them. Only God knows for what purpose He gives you this particular human being molded as He purposed. He calls you to love and care, and guide and protect what He has made and brought into being. It is not your choice as a parent to determine the nature of what God gives you; only to love and hold as precious what He places in your arms. Psalm 139 reveals that this is God’s work and His inscrutable choice. He alone is the potter; we are the clay. Our comfort in dealing with Him as our Creator, our God, our Savior, our All, is that He is good. He is the essence of goodness and all it means.
Trusting in God as good and as your own good God is the only right response in fearfully awaiting the birth of a Trisomy 18 baby, a baby to be soon placed in your arms, or any baby He has given you by His personal choice to nurture as a loving steward of this God-created person. Naturally, there is fear, mostly in wondering if you are capable of the task. But if this is how He has chosen to bless you, He also gifts you with all that is needed. Your love for your Father in heaven, your passion for Jesus your Savior, and the Holy Spirit within will be your strength in doing what God calls you to do in caring for this eternal being whom He formed. He will take all your tender care and faithful parenting and provide the extra that is necessary to be the finest steward of His gift. There is nothing you can do with your life which is more important than caring for God’s little ones whom He has invested to your care. As Jesus commanded Peter, his dearly loved disciple, “Feed my lambs.”

“I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need, and well provides me, loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.”
“Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb? And when my short life is ended, by his angel host attended, he shall fold me to his breast, there within his arms to rest.”
(1st and 3rd verses of Henrietta Von Hayn’s hymn, “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb”, 1778)

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