THREE ARE BETTER THAN ONE

How God Comforts Abundantly in Loss through the Grief of Others

No worries. I’m not misquoting the sacred text in Ecc. 4:9-12.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Two are better than one. No doubt about it–for all the reasons Solomon lists for any number of difficult circumstances. Today I’m grateful to find my two is a three.

Man with financial or sentimental problems

My journal entry this morning began this way:

1/18/17

Not my favorite day of the year. I write this at the kitchen table. I’m looking at the very place on the tile floor where I collapsed in a flood of tears three years ago. Nancy had just uttered those horrible words, “Josh is dead.” You really never do get entirely over burying a child.

Then the phone rang. I knew he would call. He hasn’t missed a January 18 yet. He won’t ever, if he can help it. “E” is too well acquainted with grief himself to drop this ball.

That’s especially true because for years the circumstances were reversed. I used to call him every January 19. He and his bride lost their daughter years ago. I was their pastor at the time. I presided over the funeral.

It means the world to me when this brother calls. It has everything to do with another significant passage of Scripture–2 Cor. 1:3-5.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

No one comforts in loss more abundantly than someone with a shared grief. In a nutshell, here’s what my friend did as Jesus’ agent on yet another day of mourning/remembering in my life.

One, he connected. He took initiative. This is a busy man with enormous responsibilities in a major parachurch ministry. He found time to care for me.

Two, he listened. After asking me how I was doing, he listened quietly with the occasional affirming “yes” or “hmm” that assured me of his undivided attention. Just being able to express the gamut of my feelings without fear of judgment helped so much.

Three, he identified. He shared his own experience of visiting his daughter’s graveside the day before. He talked about how hard last Christmas was getting all those cards with pictures of children and grandchildren he will never have. He understands.

Four, he counseled. Not in an overt way. He used the back door approach–perhaps not even realizing what he was doing. He reminded me of some advice I had given him about sharing the hurt honestly yet humbly with the Lord.

Five, he suggested. “Curt, what do you think of this? What about you, me, and “R” getting together at some point?”

Here’s why my title has the number three in it. We both have a mutual friend who lost his daughter some years ago on January 26. I officiated that service too.

“Great idea!” I said.

Three men of sorrow acquainted with grief getting together to comfort one another with the comfort gained from the Father of mercies and God of all comfort?

I can hardly wait.

And I’m glad January 18 rolls around only one time a year.

ON GRIEVING

Personal Reflections About the Journey Through Loss

Though off topic in terms of my usual subject matter, this day demands it. The wife of my youth, Nancy, would have turned 67 today had the Lord granted her length of days.

Dried rose on old vintage wood plates

Anniversaries present their own peculiar challenges to the grief process. Her birthday marks the second of these for me. My birthday last month was the first. The next? What would have been our 42nd wedding anniversary this December 21. One at a time.

The content for this post actually crystallized for me on a prayer walk beside Lake Michigan during my bereavement leave. While I don’t consider myself an expert on this subject by any means, losing a son and a bride within the span of three years time tutors one in a way like little else can do.

Perhaps this post may help others navigating what C. S. Lewis likened to the amputation of a limb. I would prefer “limbs.”

My penchant for acrostics carried the day for these five reflections. What can I say? I love this format for remembering content.

Gguard your heart from resentment. Prov. 4:23 warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” That’s hard enough to do on the mountain top let alone walking through the valley of the shadow. “The heart knows its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10).

Few things poison one’s inner being worse than resentment lodged in the heart. I’ve prayed often on the battleground of suffering, “Lord, please protect me from resentment’s assault.”

Rrelish the memories of the past. This has helped guard my heart. I’ve determined to focus on the gift of nearly 42 years with a rock-star woman rather than what years we won’t ever enjoy together. I didn’t deserve one day of those we shared anyway.

Normally Nan and I would have spent her birthday on the deck of our Idaho home overlooking the Clearwater Valley. Few things gave me more pleasure than hearing her voice, talking together, wiling away the chill of the night with the fire pit aflame before us.

Psalm 77:11 has sweetly charted my way through these five months–“I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . .  your wonders of old.”

Iinvite your friends into the process. This has been huge! How grateful I am for brothers and sisters who have wept with me in my weeping (Prov. 12:15).

Withdrawal from others in lament has its place. I’ve needed alone time to process. But isolation presents a slippery slope potentially robbing one of wisely chosen community with those skilled in drawing out the heart (Prov. 20:5).

Eengage your emotions in the present. What a roller coaster! Though honestly grief proved more challenging with Josh’s lost than with Nan’s. Our son passed with no warning; Nancy traveled the valley for months and it happened right before my very eyes. Hospice calls it anticipatory grief.

Still, one never knows when sadness will hijack the feelings. I took a personal day today just so I would have some latitude for dealing with this prospect without the demands of my everyday ministry responsibilities. And how grateful I am for the elders at OGC and her people for granting me twelve weeks bereavement leave for doing the same last summer.

F–faith your way into the future. By God’s grace, I’ve never dropped my shield of faith in my fight with this formidable foe, grief (Eph. 6:16). Perhaps no promise ever means more for leaving the past behind and pressing on into what God has for me in the days ahead than Rom. 8:32. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God has already done the harder thing. Jesus died for me making me His own. How can I conceivably entertain the prospect that He won’t graciously give me absolutely everything I need for the future, even though in His wise and always good providence it no longer includes the once delight of my eyes?

RADIO INTERVIEW ABOUT ORLANDO TRAGEDY

My Conversation with Frank Reed of KLTY Dallas-Fort Worth Concerning the Mass Shooting

pulse

God wastes nothing.

He continues to surprise in the way He redeems my nearly three year journey through suffering and loss.

The latest evidence of that came with a text from long-time friend and radio personality, Frank Reed. He asked if he could interview me about the Pulse nightclub massacre for his morning show.

I consented hoping and praying by God’s grace to make the most of the opportunity  for the gospel.

It aired this morning.

You can listen to the audio on the Orlando Grace Church website.

MY EYE’S DELIGHT GONE HOME

The Obituary for Nancy Jean Heffelfinger

“The delight of your eyes.”

Thus I AM, God over all, referred to the prophet’s beloved when He took her from him for higher purposes (Ezek. 24:16). So it has pleased Him to do with the wife of my youth. He gives and takes away; blessed be His name (Job 1:21).

Nan and Me

As with the loss of Joshua, our firstborn son, I choose to publish her obituary on my blog with its various social media connections.

Nancy Jean Masologites Heffelfinger, age 66, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, went peacefully to her treasured Lord Jesus at home on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. She was born on October 17, 1949, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Broomall, PA, where she attended Marple Newton High School. In addition to her academic excellence, Nancy loved sports. She captained her tennis team and played a fierce game of field hockey. She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics and child development from the University of Delaware.

Much of her work life outside the home involved utilizing considerable administrative assistant and people-relating skills. But she came into her own upon discovering a passion and gift for natural health and nutrition. Countless people over the years  benefited immensely from her testing, counsel, and care. She never met a vitamin/mineral supplement she didn’t like.

Nancy met her husband-to-be Curt on January 5, 1974. That day she professed faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. Six months later she and Curt got engaged; they married on December 21, 1974. After six years of residing in Southern California, she and her family moved to Central Florida. Most of the rest of her life involved making a home in metro Orlando–except for a two year stint in Idaho.

Nancy ran her spiritual race right to the finish line, serving diligently as a partner in the gospel with her pastor/husband at five different churches over the course of their married lives. She possessed an uncommonly positive, even-keeled disposition, rarely complaining about anything–even during her eighteen-month battle with cancer. Whatever it took to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle with the Lord’s help, that she consistently did. She was a “no-problem” gem of a woman.

She is survived by Curt Heffelfinger, her devoted husband, Joel Heffelfinger, her remaining son (Joshua, her firstborn, predeceased her in January of 2014), five grandchildren, Jean, her mother, three younger siblings, and numerous other extended family members.

Please visit the DeGusipe Funeral Home website to post a tribute, if you so desire. A memorial service for Nancy is scheduled at Orlando Grace Church, 872 Maitland Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida, at 10:00 AM on Saturday, June 4, 2016. Refreshments will be served in the fellowship hall after the service. Tax deductible gifts in her memory toward the church’s building fund/capital campaign can be made to Orlando Grace Church where she has served as a covenant member and faithful pastor’s wife these past eleven years. For more information contact the church office at 407.660.1984.

Our deepest, sincere, and heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of support in the way of tears, cards, gifts, meals, calls, texts, emails, posts, and especially prayers. As before, I feel rich beyond my imagination in terms of that which, humanly speaking, matters most–the love and care of others.

With gratitude to the only One I have ever loved more than my Nancy, I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).

Grief is great; grace is greater.

SAD NEWS ABOUT MY NANCY

The Latest on Her Battle with Cancer

Yesterday, May 27, we admitted my bride to the hospital. Over the last week her physical distress rose alarmingly fast. Thankfully doctors quickly stabilized things. She is much more comfortable today.

NanGravatar

This morning we learned the cause for her symptoms. The spread of disease now  compromises some major organs. The weakness of her condition furthermore prohibits the possibility of any standard of care chemotherapy treatment.

Nan grasps the gravity of the situation. She has fought her fight with the courage of her personal convictions. She has done so without complaint. The joy of the Lord has been her strength and remains so (Neh. 8:10). She does not despair knowing what pleasures await at her Savior’s right hand (Psalm 16:11).

A hospice rep will meet with us tomorrow. Joel, our son, arrives tonight. He plans to join us for that appointment with the nurse. As soon as arrangements can be made, likely no more than a day or two, we will move Nancy to the comfort of our home.

Words cannot convey my unique privilege to serve both as Nan’s husband and pastor. We talked and wept together over the news earlier today. I reminded her (and myself) that God regards as “precious”–the Hebrew means significant, weighty, no small thing in His sight–the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15). Her times are in His hands. He will walk with her through the valley of the shadow; she fears no evil (Psalm 23:4).

Lately I’ve spent a fair amount of time meditating on Phil. 4:11-13. Paul writes from prison:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

This turn of events brings me low–lower than my own cancer, a broken jaw, even the loss of our beloved Joshua, or any other hard providence we have faced. My schooling in the secret of contentment faces its biggest challenge. Though I expect the degree of difficulty to grow exponentially in the days ahead, I hope to bank everything on the massive promise of v. 13–I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Please pray for Nan’s comfort and care during this time. I want to love and serve her well at every turn. She’s pretty weak. I’m not certain at what point, if at all, she will desire visitors. We will just have to see how she does once we get her home. Many thanks.

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10), we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

WHEN SERVANTS COME AND GO

Yikes-So-many-people-are-leaving-the-church-1206x678

And they do, don’t they?

When people move on from our churches for any number of reasons, it can take its toll on a lot of things, including the unity of a fellowship. Not too long ago our own body experienced what seemed like an inordinate number of transitions. It can leave us sad, especially if we felt particularly close to so-and-so. It can even lead to resentment, if it seemed to us that a family left for not so good a reason. Worst case scenario it can discourage so greatly that we find ourselves tempted to withdraw from the community thus adding further threats to the peace.

The loss can be palpable.

Comfort and perspective on this score abound in 2 Tim. 4:9-18.

Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul writes from death row. He experienced a degree of relational loss which defies the imagination. You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. All who are in Asia? Really? Good grief! Which of us can claim that much pain from abandonment?

Comfort Insight #1

Gospel partnerships matter—a lot. Can you feel Paul’s sense of urgency. Do your best to come to me soon. He needs Timothy badly, just like we need one another.

Comfort Insight #2

Gospel defections hurt—a lot. Paul longs for Timothy because Demas bailed on him. Some worldly tractor beam locked on and lured the man away. How is this a comfort? In my experience, normally God’s servants move on for mostly reasonable or at least relatively benign reasons. Fortunately we don’t often feel the sting of wholesale defection from the faith. When it does happen however, it can crush us.

Comfort Insight #3

Gospel assignments change—a lot. Paul’s “who’s who” near the close of his version of a last will and testament reads like a Rick Steves’ travel log. The record shows servants moving all over the Empire. Here’s the deal. The sovereign God moves the pieces on the board according to His own good pleasure for His own good purposes in His own good timing (Psalm 115:3). We bow the knee and cover our mouths that we not sin with our lips.

Comfort Insight #4

Gospel reinforcements compensate—a lot. Paul sees in the changing landscape of partners a choice opportunity to bring John Mark out of the missionary doghouse and back into the battle (Acts 15:36-39). Very useful for service, he calls him. We’ve already seen God add some choice additions to fill critical posts at our church. We can expect more just as we can expect even more departures. God is good on both counts.

Comfort Insight #5

Gospel transitions galvanize—a lot. Or they can. When servants came and went, good reasons or bad, Paul testified that the Lord stood by Him at every turn and gave him strength. What a testimony! If the comings and goings of God’s people in our churches prompt us to draw nearer to Jesus and the strength He supplies, then we’ve gleaned something very good from that which often hits us very hard.

servethechurchHas your church recently undergone some redeployment of its most valuable resource—people? Look to the Lord to stand by your side and give you strength. And double down on your community commitments with those servants His good grace permits you to retain. They need you more than ever.

But bank on this: He will bring choice reinforcements in His own good time. Until then, He gives and takes away; blessed be His name.

Dear Josh

Josh and Me (2)

Hey, bud.

Two years ago today. Goes by fast. Your damaged heart gave out. Cut down in your prime. I’ll never forget the moment I walked through the door that Saturday afternoon. Your mom trembled the horrific news of our loss. I suspect that scene will never dim in my mind’s eye.

Grief gets easier and it doesn’t. Losing you still ranks first among the hardest things I’ve ever endured. Difficult to imagine anything worse. I’ve said it so many times. No one should have to bury their child.

Honestly, son, things haven’t gotten a whole lot easier since that traumatic day. Oh don’t get me wrong. The Lord has blessed us beyond what we deserve in 2014 and 15. Two of His best gifts are named Blaise and Olivia! How about these cuties?!

But December of 2014 hit hard. Mom got diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Since surgery that month she’s worked hard via natural methods to beat the remaining rogue cells in her body. Just today she went to a new doc in Lakeland for the fourth or fifth time. He wants her to have a PET scan ASAP to determine just where we stand. We hope to nail down an appointment for that sometime later this week. Lots of prayers by tons of people going heavenward for Ma. So grateful for all the support.

I’m not without my own issues. Long story, but the gist of things is this. I’ve got a busted jaw. I know the irony of that doesn’t escape you. Preacher’s got a bum mandible! It’s a result of the radiation treatment for my head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgeons plan to replace the dead bone with a titanium plate on February 15. I wrote all about that here. I’m thinking of changing my new Twitter address to @robojaw. What do you think?

For the time being I’m on total medical leave from my duties at the church AGAIN. I’ve seen this movie before back in 2005. I work at my writing mostly, when pain and fatigue allow. But preaching, talking, counseling to any degree? Completely out of the question.

As you can imagine one does a lot of thinking/reflecting when largely confined to the house awaiting a jaw replacement. I keep coming back to the things I miss so much.

Like kissing your mom. Don’t give me that look. You know how crazy I am about her. Do you have any idea how much the jaw comes into play for even the slightest peck on the lips? It’s so frustrating. I do not like in the least this hindrance to our closeness.

Then how about eating? Let me tell you about feasting or the lack thereof. I cannot chew a blessed thing. Nary a bite. I dream about chomping on a blue corn chip, dining on a medium rare ribeye, or even gumming a Five Guys french fry. Can’t do it. The menu these days consists strictly of slush and mush. Nice weight loss plan but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

IMG_0673

By the way, I wanted to keep up the tradition I started last year by dining at Emeril’s today. Dear Michelle even posted on my Facebook wall a gracious invitation to lunch. It hurt to decline, though I did ask for a rain check. I went to see finally the new Star Wars movie instead. I’m glad I waited until this anniversary day to check it out . You loved the saga so much. I think mostly you would have enjoyed episode 7. It was a comfort to me, but not at all like having Fabian serve me one of those mouthwatering duck tacos and reminiscing with him and the other terrific staff at the restaurant.

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the issue of my preaching. I had to stop cold in the middle of my series on Gen. 14. It just hurt too much to speak for any length of time. I’m on the bench, riding the pines, while others occupy MY pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out. Not fair!

Josh, I thought, I hoped, I dared believe maybe I learned in ’05 some of these lessons related to good things that I so readily turn into god things so that they become bad things. Perhaps not as much as Jesus thinks necessary for me. I just have to keep learning and relearning the main thing . . .

Jesus is enough.

My joy, contentment, satisfaction can’t depend on the presence or absence of God’s good gifts. I need to grow more in saying with Paul in Phil. 4:11-13 that I have learned the secret of being content. I need to sing with the poet more earnestly these words in Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Lips out of commission? Jesus is enough.

Feasting off the table? Jesus is enough.

Preaching out of the question? Jesus is enough.

Maybe I’ll get it through my thick head and slow heart this time, dude. One can only hope.

By the way, this father misses you terribly, but, and I think you won’t take this the wrong way . . .

Jesus is still enough.

He is gloriously, powerfully, graciously, abundantly, and savingly enough.

 

Something I’ll Never Say Again

never-again

Never say never. We all know the proverb. I, for one, hereby defy conventional wisdom. I will never say something again as long as I live.

“I can’t imagine anything harder.”

Why? Because every time I do something new comes down the pike that redefines hardness for me.

I said it when I broke free from the authority-cult like church I belonged to as a young follower of Jesus.

Then I had to quit my first church pastoral assignment due to chronic fatigue. That was harder. Couldn’t imagine anything more difficult. Wrong.

For reasons far too complicated to unpack, I resigned from the only church plant I ever founded back in 1998. We left Central Florida for Idaho. No way anything would be tougher than that. Guess again.

Head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgery, radiation, chemo. May I quote my medical oncologist? “We sent you to hell and back to save your life.” Indeed they did. What a miserable year. Hard, harder, hardest. Uh, not so fast.

“Josh is dead.” Six days from now will mark the one year anniversary of our great loss. Every day lately I find myself thinking something like this: one year ago today my son had a week left to live, ___________ days. It’s excruciating counting down the days to remembering the worst possible news. Or was it?

My bride with ovarian cancer. You’re kidding? It’s not possible. I don’t believe is. Oh, yes it it. You’d better believe it.

I give in. This is easily the hardest yet. Hardness to the nth degree. Uncle. I give in. I’ll never say it again. I don’t even want to imagine something harder than this baffling turn of events.

Alright, now that I’ve vented my lament, what is this man, husband, father, pastor, follower of Jesus to do? I have only one answer. It has always been the answer and it will forever remain the answer by God’s grace.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

How grateful I am today to have come across this Puritan prayer entitled simply “Refuge.” It corrals my runaway thoughts and emotions to send them heavenward:

O Lord, Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible, order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage me, nor prove obstacles to the progress of Your cause. Stand between me and all strife, that no evil befall, no sin corrupt my gifts, zeal, attainments. May I follow duty and not any foolish devicegod-is-my-refuge of my own. Permit me not to labour at work which You will not bless, that I may serve You without disgrace or debt. Let me dwell in Your most secret place under Your shadow, where is safe impenetrable protection from the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that walks in darkness, the strife of tongues, the malice of ill-will, the hurt of unkind talk, the snares of company, the perils of youth, the temptations of middle life, the mournings of old age, the fear of death. I am entirely dependent upon You for support, counsel, consolation. Uphold me by Your free Spirit, and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling, but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work You give me to do. Strengthen me by Your Spirit in my inner self for every purpose of my Christian life. All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in You—my name anew in Christ, my body, soul, talents, character, my success, wife, children, friends, work, my present, my future, my end. Take them, they are Yours, and I am Yours, now and for ever.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

When Words Don’t Fail

words fail

I consider Nancy and me fortunate in more ways than one. In this season of loss, there is one notable mercy that stands out. Our comforters in grief, by and large, have excelled. None of Job’s tribe here. More than not in our pain we have heard “I don’t know what to say.” To which I typically reply, “That alone brings me comfort, because words truly fail in the travail of grief.” Others who have walked this path have often told me a different story. I hurt for them.

However, sometimes words don’t fail. Proverbs 25:11 moments do happen.   I experienced that this morning when I opened my Facebook page. I found an “apple of gold in settings of silver” on my wall. It comes from a dear brother whom I miss greatly. He too belongs to the unenviable fraternity of those who have buried a child – in his case, more than one. It was my privilege to minister to him and his bride in their multiple losses. Today he returned the favor way beyond anything I ever offered in the way of comfort to him. Here is what he wrote:

I’m reading a biography of Samuel Adams, and today I read of the passing of his first father-in-law, the Reverend Samuel Checkley, in December 1769, after 50 years of ministry. Checkley’s wife had recently died and 11 of his 12 children predeceased him. Some excerpts from his obituary made me think of you:

“He was uncommonly gifted in prayer. His voice was very pleasant, and his delivery without affectation, natural and graceful. His preaching also was serious, affecting, scriptural, plain and useful. His piety was deep and effectual, his religion hearty, and his devotion unaffected and fervent.” It noted that of Checkley’s twelve children, only one survived him, and said that those losses and the death of his wife “greatly affected his spirits, and impaired his constitution, tho’ he bore up under them all with very exemplary patience and christian resignation.”

His successor in the pulpit, Penuel Bowen, preached the following Sunday that Checkley “really esteemed religion the only support under the sorrows and afflictions of life, (a large share of which he had,) and used it himself in this view; so he was abundant in recommending it to others for the same valuable purpose: his discourses were almost all in good measure filled with savory matter for the consolation of mourners, and the encouragement of those who were afflicted and cast down.”

Don’t misunderstand. When Bowen used the word “religion,” he did not mean empty formalism. He couldn’t possibly have commended self-saturated moralism. Legalism will NOT carry you through the valley of the shadow. Striving to perform a list of do’s-and-don’ts before God will leave you sadly wanting.  Ministers of Bowen’s day used the word “religion” in the best sense of the term. He meant the gospel. Jesus is enough. More than enough. That’s true religion – hope set on the One who suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

If you pray for me at all, and I know that many of you do (thank you!), please pray that I imitate more thoroughly the faith of Samuel Checkley, as I continue to emerge from the hard providence of death at my doorstep.

John, you make me want to be a better pastor. Thank you.

When Blooming Youth Is Snatched Away

blooming youth

Few hymns bring me more comfort or more pause in our unexpected loss of our 35 year old son than this classic by Anne Steele, published in The Christian Hymn Book for the Sanctuary and Home (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing Association, 1875).

When blooming youth is snatched away
By death’s resistless hand,
Our hearts the mournful tribute pay
Which pity must demand.

While pity prompts the rising sigh,
O may this truth, impressed
With awful power–I too–must die–
Sing deep in every breast.

Let this vain world engage no more;
Behold the gaping tomb!
It bids us seize the present hour,
To-morrow death may come.

 The voice of this alarming scene,
May every heart obey;
Nor be the heavenly warming vain,
Which calls to watch and pray.

O let us fly, to Jesus fly,
Whose powerful arm can save;
Then shall our hopes ascend on high,
And triumph o’er the grave.

Great God, thy sovereign grace impart,
With cleansing, healing power;
This only can prepare the heart
For death’s surprising hour.