Friday, December 28, 2007

Giving Words to Grief


”Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up o’er the wrought heart and bids it break.” - Macbeth

Grief visited me in a torrent on Christmas. I was expecting difficulty, but I received an emotional mugging. I felt as if grief dragged me down into a pit that can only be named despair. I struggled with it and felt as helpless as a fish out of water, lying in a puddle of my tears. My feelings were far more profoundly sad than those that visited me at the funeral. I was frankly surprised at the sound of my heart cracking again.

I fear Macbeth's words are true; if I do not express my grief in this manner, my heart will break never to be whole again. The word I offer to describe this emotion is "cheated." I feel cheated out of the love of my life. I feel cheated out of the joys of life that I have had, especially at this blessed season. I just simply miss my love. This may be as close to anger as I have experienced so far.

There is also a prolonged sense of foreboding that lies near the border of panic. It’s not unlike the feelings of flight I had as a child, spending the night with my cousin. We would play all day, our minds adrift in some fantasy, but at sunset something would come over me. The only way I could describe it was "homesickness." My aunt would push back my sweaty hair and feel my forehead for a temperature, but there never was one. I felt sick all over, and I wanted to be elsewhere. The place I was staying was safe, good, clean and welcoming, and my aunt’s food was always great, but I just wanted to be home. I feel like such a stranger here without Tammy. I feel odd in almost every circumstance of my familiar life.

I was reminded by a friend who has traveled this road to ask God to reveal what He is doing. So I asked the Lord to show me what He is doing that I may not care to see or want to find comforting. Revelation Chapter 19 describes Jesus returning on a majestic white horse. His name is said to be "Faithful and True." He is most certainly that. In a quiet place I find Him faithful and patient with my whirlwind of bitter emotions. He is true to never leave me or forsake me. I have always believed that God speaks, even if I do not have a clue what His words mean. He speaks, even though His words can be like explaining quantum physics to a three month old child.

When God answers my questions, He doesn’t always offer definitions. He speaks through a remembered verse. He speaks through simple phrases or thoughts I know didn’t originate with my mind. He speaks with love and understanding. He has spoken in firm and frightening clarity, but this time He answered me by sitting with me and letting me know He was there. He brushed away my grief and covered my sulking frame in His peace. He eased the pain of my soul. He did what answers could not, God came near.

Then I remembered, that is what my faithful and true God does. He comes near. I know now how people are dragged into the dungeon of despair. I know why anger and hurt can so easily rule our lives. I know better how to fight back when grief wants to mug me and drag me away. I know I still have a choice. Grief may well have the power to do all I’ve described and more, but it cannot lock me in a prison of despair. I alone hold that key. God made it so. I have been given the keys that lock or unlock my own prison cell. I have the power to choose. Thank God there is still in me something that yearns to be free.

Thank you, Faithful and True!

Ed Litton

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Dangers of Grief

The dangers of grief are many. You may not think of grief as being dangerous but it most certainly is. Charles Darwin reminds me of the dangers of grief gone wrong. The fact that Darwin rejected Christianity is commonly known, but what is not so well known is why he did. The painful death of his young daughter Annie may have been the culprit. According to biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore in their book Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, "Annie's cruel death destroyed Charles's tatters of belief in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity."

Arguably, the most destructive philosophy in modern history took shape in the heart of a hurting and grieving man. Darwin's grief would not be satisfied with platitudes, nor should it have been. Yet something turned in him with which I think I can sympathize. A deep sense of injustice often stalks the grieving. Yet if you listen to those who are most virulent in their attack on faith and in particular the Christian faith, you will hear something like this: "How can a good God, or how can an all powerful God, allow such innocent people to suffer?" The implication is that either God is not powerful or maybe He is not so good, if He exists at all.

I admit that I have often been put in a defensive posture upon hearing such statements. When I read of Charles Darwin's loss my heart sympathized with him. For the first time in all the years I have known of this man and frankly despised his destructive invention of an explanation of our existence without God, I felt compassion for him. Then I felt sadness because of one man’s struggle with grief that turned to anger. I have no way of knowing if Darwin was visibly angry, but his theory of evolution is very angry. It concludes that there must not be a God, or he cannot be loving, or he must not have enough power to stop the pervasive nature of death, so what good is he? Darwin then proceeded to write not so much an origin of the species but an explanation of life without God.

This concept has taken hold of modern mankind, and with it some truly devastating result have followed. Millions have died because of Darwin's idea that only the fit survive. In countries that choose to live out Darwin's conclusion and establish atheism, the numbers are staggering. In excess of 50 million have been tortured and killed by the "fittest" who had their hands on the controls. Religious people have also taken lives in their very real and depraved grasp for power, yet even the Inquisition would be hard pressed to match the 20th Century’s record of death. Others took these concepts to justify their illogical conclusions and gassed Jews, exterminated their opposition, destroyed the weak and infirmed, in the gruesome acts of living out the survival of the fittest.

The thought that haunts me is that this all happened because a man grieved, and his grief turned to anger, and his anger turned to unbelief, and that turned to hopelessness. We get to choose what we do with our grief. It feels like grief sits in the driver’s seat of our lives, and for a while it may; but in fact we get to choose what we focus upon, what conclusions we draw, and where our anger takes us.

Does God have a good answer for grief's nagging questions? I believe God's answer came, but in a surprising form. He sent his one and only Son, and he gave him a unique name. "The word became flesh and dwelled among us..." (John 1:14 NIV). God's answer was the Word becoming flesh and giving us Himself, not a glib answer to satisfy our intellect but to satisfy the problem of death, suffering and evil. Our God got close, so close that he could hurt and bleed. He refused to remain distant. Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, suffering great grief, declared that he would not believe unless he could see and touch the scars of Jesus, then found himself invited by Jesus to feel his wounds, touch his scars and believe.

Stop. What kind of God has scars? Only a God who is willing to get close enough to hurting people that they could hurt him. These are the scars of crucifixion, another depraved human invention. Why was he crucified? For you and me. He came near because that is the only way to help hurting people.

The question of suffering is hard, profound and consequential. Struggle with it carefully. Struggle with it valiantly, but ask the God of grace to help your anger; hurt and let your suffering rest at the nail-scarred feet of Jesus. Grief is dangerous, but equal to the danger is the possibility of knowing the God who created, sustains and loves you. The only wise God who came near and suffered with great purpose, to end deaths power once and for all.

Struggle well!
Ed Litton

Monday, December 17, 2007

Art

Art is a gift from God. I'm convinced it's His provision for us to express what is left of His image in us. Sin has done a number on us, and though I don't pretend to grasp the full impact of our total depravity, I'm grateful we still retain this amazing, God-given desire to capture and express the inexplicable. Like preschoolers painting with their fingers, we attempt to imitate God's eternal, creative, artistic nature. Psalm 92:5 says, "How great are your works, O LORD, how profound your thoughts!" (NIV)

I see this in George Frederic Handel's Messiah, in Winslow Homer's amazing paintings, Leonardo Da Vinci's sculptures, and the architecture of great churches. I marvel at a well-told story in film and a photograph that seems to speak. When I listen to great musicians, I marvel at the skill and giftedness with which they perform. Even more, I marvel when they seem to genuinely perform for an audience of one, the Lord. I'm convinced that Christians have a high calling to recapture the arts for God's glory. Writing, painting, producing films, composing songs, and a host of other creative endeavors must be pursued by believers for one reason--to glorify our Creator God.

This desire to create is much like a child who stops playing with a toy when she sees the long embrace of her father and mother in tender love. That little child loses all awareness of the toy and runs to the embrace. She squeezes between them, clinging to both. Why? She was made for intimacy, even though she may not fully understanding what it is. She yearns for it and is magnetically drawn to it.

In a similar childlike way, we yearn to express worship and praise for the Lord Jesus. One day we'll know fullness of intimacy with Him in His glory and His presence. This is when the fingerpaintings that we call masterpieces give way to the most creative place ever imagined, heaven. Won't it be wonderful on that day, to be in His presence and see something strangely familiar? We walk toward it, driven by curiosity and need, then realize that it is something we created while on earth. We're now embarrassed at its childish simplicity, but a sense of overwhelming love fills us as we see what we made hanging on the Lord's refrigerator?

Celebrate art, and in doing so you prepare for the reason we were given creativity as a gift--to glorify the Creative One who made us.
Ed Litton

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Hallelujah Chorus

Last Monday night my thirteen-year-old daughter Kayla played the cello in a Christmas concert with the Mobile Symphony and the Mobile Opera. The historic First Baptist Church was filled with people who came to sing Handle's Messiah, and it was a beautiful and worshipful event. Near the end, right before the “Hallelujah Chorus,” comes a simple chorus called “His yoke is easy, His burden is light.” As the congregation sang, I closed my eyes and thought about the inviting power of those words.

In Matthew Chapter Eleven, Jesus sends out a call to all people which still echoes throughout history:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). NIV

What an invitation. Never before or since has such a standing invitation been given to all people who are weary and hurting. Jesus invites us all to come and take Him at His word, accepting His promise of eternal life. It's a powerful invitation with an even more tantalizing promise of rest. Are you tired? I am. I'm weary, yet I find Jesus' yoke to be a safe place for my burdened soul. Then Jesus adds:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:29). NIV

Do you realize this is the only time Jesus ever described Himself? The reason He's a safe place for hurting and harassed people is that He has a soul that has been tamed from any agenda except the agenda of God's redeeming love. Why a yoke? 

Jan Scoper is a young mother in our church family who moved to America from Singapore. She lived among us for over fifteen years and last year finally became a citizen of the United States. We were so proud of her when she stood to take her oath as a U.S. Citizen. Jan becomes a American by assent. She raises her right hand in a solemn ceremony and assents to certain ideals about freedom and responsibility and--boom--she becomes an American. Many come to these shores come casting off yokes of oppression, never to bear them again. Becoming a Christian is different. It's responding to Christ's invitation to come to Him, to draw near to God with the promise that He'll draw near to you. By this we trust Him to bear our sins, and once saving faith is exercised, a relationship begins. Then we take on His yoke. 

A yoke is a single object built for two. When yoked together, two oxen can pull more than one alone can. It cuts work in half and multiplies the effect of their labor. Think about Jesus' yoke. Christmas is the celebration of the fact that Jesus came to earth as a flesh and blood human being. John 1:14 says that God became flesh and dwelt among us. Why? So He could invite us to His yoke. The Hebrews had strict laws concerning the abuse of animals, especially those placed under the yoke. An ox and a horse could not be hitched together in the same yoke. Why? One or both will get hurt. So Jesus came as He did, to do what He does--carry the heavy burdens of life with us. He came for the heat of the struggle, when your body is weary, when the sound of the cicada reminds you that pain does not always go away quickly, and the humid heat of the day is still young.

He is strong. He takes up the load that you can't handle. He carries the load when you stumble. He holds the yoke in place when you refuse to go another inch. His strength makes the yoke easy and the burden lighter for us. In the midst of our struggle and pain, we have His gentle and humble heart to teach us His way, the way to a cross. He knows how to handle heavy objects and weighty things. He manhandled the cross up Calvary. The Christian life begins by placing faith in Jesus, but it continues victoriously as we learn to walk like Him--by walking with Him under the yoke. 

I don't know where one finds rest while still in the struggle, except with Jesus. 

With warm, salty tears moving down my face, I listened to the heavenly music played with skill and operatic voices singing in amazing harmony. The notes faded away as the music paused, and the conductor swept his arms upward. The orchestra began playing the familiar triumphant refrain that caused us all to rise in honor of the great God and King, Jesus Christ. He is worthy of my tears of praise. He is worthy of our standing and rejoicing in chorus as we sing Hallelujah! To God be the glory!

Merry Christmas from the Yoke!
Ed Litton

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tammyland

When sorrow arrives, it's important to focus on what yet remains; loss can consume you if you let it. I always find strength in the Lord, and He is gracious to give me His Word. In Psalm 16: 6, David makes a statement that has been on my heart today:

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

Today I give God glory for causing my boundary lines to have fallen in pleasant places. I'm grateful for the place Tammy and I have raised our family for the last thirteen years. It's a place called Saraland. Honestly, when I first heard the name of this small suburb of Mobile, I thought it a bit corny. After coming here, I didn't see a lot of impressive buildings or memorable structures.

I have a strange habit, rooted deep in my DNA. When I visit a place, especially when I move to a new place, I want to learn as much as possible about it--how it came to be, how it got its name. I quickly discover that most people don't have the same compulsion. I see a lot of wrinkled foreheads and shrugged shoulders, and I hear, “I have no clue” or even “Who cares?”

I do. I want a sense of history, especially about the place I live.

Well, Saraland has a history. It seems that a long time ago there was a Methodist circuit-riding preacher who had a preaching point in the country just north of Mobile, near Chunchula, Alabama. In those days travel was limited to the speed of a good horse. So this preacher would faithfully travel--one week to one place, the next to another, following the great tradition of Methodism's founder John Wesley.

When he would arrive at each point in the circuit, there would be the preaching of God's word, baptizing of converts, and memorial services for those who died. That was the life of a circuit-riding Methodist preacher. On one of this preacher's trips to north Mobile, his wife came with him. I don't know if it was her regular custom to do this, or if this was a rare occasion. But on this trip she fell ill. They stayed in this area hoping and praying for her recovery. She died in the home of a stranger.

The community was moved by the plight of this preacher. People poured out love toward him. He experienced so much love, so much gratitude for his faithful preaching of the gospel, that when a town arose in the region north of Mobile, they called this little place Saraland after the wife of the circuit riding Methodist preacher.

I find a sense of irony in this story. Here I am--a preacher, not from Alabama, but willing to come here at God's command. Married to a woman who made my life and ministry possible. Grateful for a good community in which to raise our family, and even glad at times that it is small, quiet, and not worthy of much attention in this world. It's a good place to hide beneath the shadow of the Almighty. We've found this people to be kind, grateful for our ministry, in the same way they were for that Methodist pastor and his wife. I also know the great loss of my precious wife. I know the powerful love and compassion of people who feel my grief and wish to do everything they can to come to my aid. I believe they would name this place Tammyland if they could. Tammy would never stand for that, I assure you.

What marks this community is compassion, love, and a generous spirit. It always has and still does. Our community will not stay small for long. Change is already under way. What I hope and pray is that in the process of time and transformation, one thing will never be lost in my little city: love.

Thank you Lord, for allowing my boundary lines to fall in pleasant places!

Ed Litton

Monday, December 03, 2007

Insight in Worship

From time to time, I wonder what Tammy might be doing. This thought was a normal mental exercise anytime we were separated. In the past, I could easily picture her in our house, driving her car, or playing her oboe in the living room. Now, this mental escape seems very strange indeed, because I have no easy reference point to imagine what she could be doing in heaven. The problem is not my lack of imagination, or my failure to believe in heaven. Paul's words in I Corinthians 2:9 explain why I struggle to picture her in heaven. However, as it is written:”No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—Heaven is incomprehensible, but thank God not unimaginable. The problem with my imagination is that it is too weak and cannot do heaven justice. Therefore, I choose to think of what she could be doing and not so much what it looks like where she is at this moment.

Heaven is, of first importance, a place to glorify Christ in worship. The worship of heaven must be amazing, unimaginable, and in a sense unspeakable. Since the chief aim of man is to glorify God, heaven is a place where His will is always done and His glory never diminished. The unending worship of heaven is beyond my comprehension; yet, I have seen my bride worship and I can picture what she looks like in worship. Many Sundays, I was touched and received great joy as I stood on the platform in worship and glance at Tammy, in her usual place, her eyes closed and her hands raised, in her gentle way of adoring Jesus. Now I can picture her beautiful face surrounded by His glory streaming from every direction, her eyes open wide, and her hands raised in worship.

Yesterday, I was in worship with God's people at church. As I worshiped and praised the Lord, a thought became instantly clear: I worship like a man looking through a dark glass. I do not see, but I believe. I worship Him who is unseen to me. In heaven, I will behold Him. I worship now with constant distractions, but Tammy worships with single focus. As I think of Tammy beholding Jesus, I am almost overcome with envy of her. Then, like an electric shock, its hits me: she will never again worship out of blindness, with her eyes closed, trusting what she cannot see. She now worships in the fulfillment of the promise; I worship in hope of the promise. She worships in wholeness; I worship in brokenness. She worships complete; I worship undone. Yet, my worship causes the angels to marvel, because it is by faith. In my painful, broken, and pitiable condition, I have one advantage that brings my Lord glory: I worship by faith.

Then another thought greets me, like a warm blanket, and I begin to weep. We who have been separated are united at one place: worship. I am on one side of Jesus; Tammy on the other. I worship like a blind man; she as one who has perfect vision. Yes, I wish I could hold her one more time; but, I can be content to worship with her again and again. Worship has a refreshed meaning in my life today.

Ed Litton

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Itching Label

A trend began a few years ago to remove labels from men's undershirts and T-shirts and replace them with information printed directly onto the fabric. The reason for this change is simple: some labels cause irritation. Comfort rules in the garment marketplace. The older I get, the more I appreciate the philosophy of Gilda Radner, an original member of the Saturday Night Live cast: "I wear what doesn't itch!" I am a sworn Brooks Brothers man, and I was impressed that even the Brothers Brooks surrendered to this great idea.

There are life labels that make me itch, too, only the switch-out pattern has been reversed. I have gone from a very comfortable label--"happily married"--to several uncomfortable ones, like "widowed,” “single parent,” “grieving," and the list goes on. It itches even to write these words.

Now, I understand that my comfort is not the highest priority in life. As a matter of fact, in this new normal of my existence I have come to expect discomfort, and I'm even somewhat comfortable with it. But I appreciate people who are like the new printed labels in my Brooks Brothers undershirts. They try to remove the itch. They refuse to summarize life with an easy and itchy label. They are careful not to label the hurting as grieving or dysfunctional or any other tag. They look beyond the label and see what Jesus saw when he first laid eyes on the woman carrying a water bottle coming from the Samaritan city of Sycar. Her garment was full of itching labels, but he refused to see her that way.

This is where I have been most unlike Jesus. Labels are a way of life for me that I now see differently. Labels are not evil or completely unnecessary, but they can itch. Believe it or not, a small itch can sometimes make a big difference.

Bless someone today by removing the itching label from the garment you wrap around them in your mind. Smile and just show them that you love them and accept them. Who knows--you may be on the verge of setting a captive free.

Ed Litton

Monday, November 26, 2007

Secondary Loss

A secondary loss is a loss that happens after you have lost a loved one. Secondary losses can come when death forces you to move, leave friends, join another church, change jobs or schools. These losses are secondary in name only. Sometimes they have a more profound impact than the loss itself. Often they serve as a unwanted reminder of the greatness and magnitude of your loss.

During these holidays the secondary losses can stack one upon another and begin to become overwhelming. Putting up a Christmas tree has always been a joyous event in our home. We can and have logically anticipated that this was to be another hard process of our grief. As so many others have experienced, this going through the motions rings hallow but necessary. So we put up our tree. We have begun to hang ornaments. We are not finished because of different work schedules, but we will get it done, hopefully this week. Yet, I find a sad and strangely comforting mixture in this. With each ornament I hold I am reminded that Tammy held it last. With each memory wrapped around the special ornaments we have collected in our lifetime together, there is joy in the memory of places visited, the hands of little ones creating this masterpiece and the memories of life together. There is something else. Something I will never be able to say again. It seems strange, but I am speaking of the order in which our well packed Christmas decorations are found. Tammy was the greatest organizer I have ever known. She was not big on labels but she did not have to be. The order she brought to our lives was simple, logical and obvious, not needing a lot of instruction.

Upon opening boxes I found order, sweet order. Plain and beautiful ornaments resting safe in the boxes they were purchased in years ago, waiting to be brought out to the light. I found in stronger boxes the most precious ornaments, those hand made or the ones celebrating milestones in our kid's lives. Then there were the ones from our travels and vacations together as a family. It always seemed strange to buy Christmas ornaments in June and July but we did whenever we could. We went to Washington D.C. so often that we began a collection of special ornaments of the Capital and the White House neatly placed in their original boxes. The Ribbons we wrap the tree in are rolled up in their own place. The other decorations that adorn our living room are in their place. All a tribute to an orderly mind and heart. Tammy's mother tells of cooking one day when Tammy was about three years old. Tammy marched into the kitchen with a pad of paper in one hand and a pencil in the other. She pulled a drawer out and stood on it to reach the counter top. She then proceeded to make a list of the things she would do that day.

Order is a precious gift to a family, especially a grieving family. Our lives were well ordered and by God's grace and thanks to the Holy Spirit, continues to be, well, not quite as orderly. I make list now even though it is not my nature to do so. We struggle to get a grip on different and ever changing schedules. I am reminded that she brought order to our lives and for that I am so grateful. Last July, about a month before her death, Tammy and I were traveling and really enjoying each others company. We were talking about our finances, a subject that she brought from chaos to order every day. She stopped mid sentence and said, with her rye sense of humor. "You better hope I never die, because you will be in a world of hurt if I do." My response, "I have a simple solution to that, Don't die! Then we will be alright."

Well, she was right, I am in a world of hurt. My world of hurt is not total choas, thanks to her, nor is it found in want, but a powerful sense of loss. I have lost the one who ordered my life and made it possible for me to do what I am called of God to do. It may be what is termed, "Secondary loss" but it feels like a great loss to me.

Order My Steps Lord.
Ed Litton

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

UPDATE

If you've wondered where I  have been away for the past two weeks, I have been hunting.  Some wonderful friends lovingly conspired to give me two diversions that I enjoyed immensly.  I am blessed with friends, dear friends and I feel loved intensly.

If any of my regular readers are concerned about me hunting, you need to understand something about my calling. I am called of God to be a missionary to Rednecks. As any missional person should, I have adapted to the culture I am attempting to reach for Christ. Tammy and I stopped thinking that the term "Redneck" was a punch-line a long time ago. I love to hunt, so It turns out there was a Redneck deep down inside.

Grief marks the days, weeks and now months since Tammy went home to our Lord Jesus.  It is as difficult today as it was in the beginning only in different ways.  I still wonder at times how this could possibly have happened.  I find myself asking God to wake me from this nightmare so I can walk into our home and find her there, but I do not awaken because the nightmare is all too real.  I am consumed with tears at times I cannot predict.  I feel the daily loss of her powerful presence in my life.  She held the key to my heart.  She knew how to unlock me and she knew how to fix what often failed in me simply by her soft, gentle hand on my broad chest. 
 
I must tell you what causes me awe in these days.  I must share this because of the powerful and valuable resource it has become to me.  I am compelled to tell you that I can feel in a tangible way the prayers of people.  It happens so often that I am no longer suprised when someone tells me that the Lord put me on their heart compelling them to pray for me.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit prompting us to prayer.  Prayer is not the least we can do for a hurting and grieving heart, it is the ultimate act.  I am sustained by the prayers of the saints.  This must have been what Paul felt in prison, knowing that there were distant great hearted people who stayed on their knees on his behalf.  
 
Pray for those who are hurting.  Pray for the wounded to be healed.  Pray for the joy of the Lord to be the strength for those who have few reasons for joy.  Pray because the mighty power of God awaits our prayers.  Pray and interceed for those in authority.  Pray and thank you for praying for me and my children.  We want to do more than just awaken from this nightmare.  We want to awaken in our souls to the new life God has for us in Christ.  We have not experience yet all that our God has in store for us. 
 
We wait upon the Lord!
Ed LItton

Monday, November 19, 2007

Warning: Speed Bump Ahead

Have you ever missed the sign? City traffic engineers placed a speed bump in the road to force you to slow down--but in a hurry to get to point “B” you missed the warning. The teeth jarring effect of hitting one of those obstacles is memorable, to say the least. James 4:13-17 was just such a theological [spiritual?] speed bump for me in my study last week.

“Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.”

I'm amazed by the perspective Tammy's death affords me. I'm stunned by the clarity of life at this moment--so much so that I deeply resent the mental and spiritual fog I lived in for so many years. I came to Christ with childlike faith, but I've managed to live this life and do ministry without that same faith. Here's a stunning thought: I can live and do ministry as a practical atheist.

In the above passage, James deals with the sin of presumption. We all make plans, and so we should. What the child of God cannot do, though, is make plans apart from the Lord's will. We may not mean to do this, but the urgency of life, the pressures of time, money, and deadlines squeeze the life out of us. We plan, we presume, and we press on with our day; and what is lost is a simple faith that says, “If it is the Lord's will, I will do this or that.”

The Puritans favored a Latin phrase that became the seasoning of all of their spoken words: Deo volente, which means “God willing.” At the bottom of their writings, the letters DV would appear. The Puritans might make promises and commitments, but always with the qualifier, “Lord willing.” Certainly we don't need another cliché in Christianity, but we do need to reintroduce this concept. We must season our lives with the powerful reminder that we can plan, dream, hope, and even desire to prosper--as long as we humble ourselves and remember that it all depends upon the Lord and His will.

Oh yes, it also depends upon His definition of prosperity not ours. This is why the Scripture admonishes us to pray “in the Spirit.” Our praying must be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who searches out the deep things of God and helps us know how to pray.

What is your life? With regard to time and space, it is like a mist that appears and then vanishes. It seems just that brief.

Sitting in a deer stand in Kentucky last week, I was able to enjoy God's creation and reflect on the beauty of His amazing mind. It rained much of the time there, and between the soft wet drops of rain a mist would blanket the field. The wind would move the mist across the field, but before it came to the tree line, it disappeared.

Life is short. This speed bump in God's Word reminds me to live each day in light of that fact. Eternity is long, so what can I do this day to glorify my God? I will do it, Deo volente!

Ed Litton

Friday, November 09, 2007

When the Invisible becomes Obvious

An invisible being named sadness seems to stalk me. Sometimes it catches up with my fast gait and takes my soul at the most embarrassing moments. In those moments I weep in the most helpless way. Why does God allow this? I wonder out loud. He not only allows it, he seems to encourage it. There's no denial with God. He doesn't deny the reality of sin, pain, sorrow or suffering. It's real.

God is always doing more than meets the eye. He's doing something in us that is seldom motivated by the desire to simply make us happy. He's making me strong, healthy, whole and holy. He is teaching me to trust his invisible attributes and his eternal power. Other footsteps follow me, too. Goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life. These invisible guardians of my soul are just as real as the sadness. They leap on sadness, and the violence is great, but amazingly they always win.

When the Lord is your shepherd, let me tell you how the invisible becomes obvious. Today I was addressing the mundane task of car repair. As I dropped my truck off for a front end alignment, a man with a gracious smile approached me. “Do you remember me?” he asked.

I replied, “Your face looks familiar.”

“My wife and I came to see you about our marriage a few years ago.”

Suddenly I remembered. His wife was a check-out clerk at a grocery store. One day she was checking another woman's groceries, and the woman asked her, “So how are you doing?”
 
It was as if a dam broke, as the clerk's grief gushed out in tears.

“What's wrong baby?” asked the concerned customer.

“I love the South. It's the only place I know where people aren't afraid to call a total stranger 'baby, honey and sweetie!'” The clerk then burst out, “My marriage is in trouble, and I don't know what to do.”

The woman left her cart and hugged the clerk and comforted her. Then--and at this point I want you to know I'm relating what the clerk later communicated with me--the woman took the clerk's hand and said, “Sweetie, I don't go to church there, but I hear the pastor at First Baptist North Mobile really loves his wife. I'd suggest you and your husband go talk to him. Maybe he could help your husband love you too.”

Through her tears the clerk responded, “I don't know if he'll go see a preacher.”

“Well, honey, he can't go if you don't ask him.”

I remember the couple coming into my office and nervously taking a seat on the couch. I asked why total strangers would want to see me. The wife tearfully told me the story of the meltdown at the check-out counter. “I want this man to love me like I hear you love your wife.”

I'm not trying to make this sound like a Billy Graham film, but before we were finished both the man and his wife prayed and trusted Christ as their savior and lord.

I went home that night and told Tammy about my day. I remember saying to her, “I never dreamed that loving you, which is so easy for me to do, would become an evangelism tool.”

The man at the auto garage gave me a lift back to the office, which gave me another opportunity to catch up on their spiritual journey and once again to encourage their growth in the Lord.

Sadness crawled on me early this morning, but my Good Shepherd sicced Goodness and Mercy on the sorry dog. Before it was over, another invisible friend named Joy showed up.

Ed Litton
*Painting by William Holman Hunt

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Where Are You Wintering?

The Apostle Paul writes to his friend and coworker, Titus, and makes this request: "...do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there" (Titus 3:12). In our world of swift travel, it taxes the imagination to think that a journey could take months or even years. Seasons had a profound impact on travel in the ancient world. “Wintering” was the practice of postponing a journey, due to a change in the season. You would plan a long journey knowing you might have to find a place to winter. With travel scheduled in seasons rather than hours, you had to consider where you would live when things turned cold.

Today’s speed and ease of travel threaten to obscure a very important principle. Because I can travel the globe in a matter of hours, I sometimes forget what true progress is. When facing serious set-backs like grief and injury, we need time to recover before our journey continues. Winter sets in, and we must decide how we’ll spend this delay in our progress. We’re so accustomed to quick travel that we've also come to expect quick recovery after loss.

Paul wintered until it was time to travel again. George Washington was forced by encroaching winter to stock up and rest his army at Valley Forge. The good news for Washington was that winter also stopped his enemy cold. Most armies ceased fire during the winter and found a safe place to heal and wait for better fighting weather. Robert E. Lee's favorite place to winter was along the Rapadan River in Virginia. His men would build log churches for nightly meetings, and local pastors would preach great revivals among the troops.

Winter can stop the progress of an army or a world-wide evangelistic ministry like the one Paul was leading. Winter forces us to rely on prayer, because only God can do anything about the weather. In fact, God does not limit himself to an airline schedule. He created us for a world that traveled at a snail’s pace—which means that our souls may, from time to time or season to season, need wintering.

I find myself peeved at set-backs and delays of even seconds in a fast-food line. I cluck my tongue at a long traffic light. Help me understand why I have greater access to the world but experience greater frustration with the briefest delays!

Could you be delayed from your goals for the whole winter? Could you wait for an answer to your prayer for three months or three years? Can you wait for some undisclosed length of time for the Lord to heal your wounds? Certainly he isn’t obligated to keep us informed of his timetable.

Paul tells Titus he’ll be wintering at Nicopolis, a small coastal city in Greece. The city was named for its founder, Emperor Octavion, in celebration of his victory—the Greek word for “victory” is nicos—over Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium. Having doubtless seen the monument to that hollow victory made from the empty hulls of ships destroyed in the battle, Paul settles in for the winter. He knows what it is to rest in real victory. Do we rest, recover, and winter in a place of victorious Christian living? I doubt many of us consider waiting, resting, and healing to be productive activity, much less victorious. I am impatient with delay in the winter of my discontent.

Currently I’m wintering in the seaport town of Mobile, Alabama. It is a place of victory, rest, and hope in Christ—but I get to choose if I will see it that way. My soul winters here until the seasons change and my journey continues. If we’re not careful, we’ll think just like that. Progress is delayed while I winter. In fact, wintering is progress for the soul. Wintering is movement toward prayer and seeking after God. As General Lee demonstrated, wintering is a great time for revival.

I am in a safe place to weep. God has planted my life among a great hearted people. I can weep unexpectantly in my Barbers chair and find a brother in Christ put his arm around me and quietly pray. Thank you, Lord, for my brothers and sisters in Christ at North Mobile. Thank you for their love and prayers. Thank you that in this winter of my sorrow I am safe in a victorious place in Christ, waiting for winter to pass and the sound of battle to begin again. Thank you that in this winter of my soul, I can rest, heal, and pray, finding my strength, wisdom, and direction in you.

Ed Litton

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Prepare for Rain

For 40 days our church family has been praying for God to move in our lives. It has been over fifteen years since we have had a traditional revival service. This event was planned over a year ago. After Tammy's death we could not bear to cancel the revival realizing that her heart cry was for God to bring revival to First Baptist North Mobile. So we proceeded with the plans for the Prepare for Rain Revival with the hope that our God who had our attention would now have our hearts.

Upon the conclusion of the forty day prayer and preparation emphasis we began four days of revival meetings with Dr. Michael Catt, Senior Pastor of the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia to be our guest speaker. Michael brought a series of challenging messages to our church.
Each night the crowds grew and each night the invitation saw great expressions of brokeness and repentance at the alter. We are cautious about making declarative statements concerning genuine revival but we know that God answered our prayers beyond what we expected. We also have a sense that He is not finished with us. Our worship pastor, Jason Breland led us wonderfully to the throne of Grace each service. It is such a blessing when God's people have true freedom in Christ to worship and seek after the Lord.

The reason I am cautious about evaluating this move of God is that we tend to do so without realizing what we are arrogantly doing. Revival is not a time to evaluate God or the preacher or even one another. Revival is when God evaluates us. He searches out our hearts and exposes sin so that we might confess and be made clean and victorious.
As my good friend Fred Wolfe is quick to say, "Revival is when God takes his people to a new level and they never return to their old level." We believe God has been faithful to meet us at North Mobile. Our faces are set toward him and we do not want to go back to what we were before. Thank You Lord for revival services. Thank You Lord for your fresh touch. May the result be obedience to your word and glory to your Son by souls being saved.

Ed Litton
Photograhs by Josh Boozer

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Desert

I am blessed to have a lifetime of out of the ordinary experiences. (I did not say out of the body experiences.) I have a mental file cabinet full of sermon illustrations from my unique life experiences. One such experience has helped me recently.

When I was twelve years old, illness forced my parents to sell our home, farm, and much of our worldly possessions to move from east Tennessee to the desert of southern Arizona. The move felt like a John Steinbeck moment, including the bitter grapes, as we pulled a small U-Haul trailer, with our '69 Pontiac, across the barren landscape of Texas, New Mexico, and finally Arizona.

To me living in the desert of southern Arizona was like living in a big, ugly box of kitty litter. My world was so different. Nothing was familiar--not the sounds, not the smells, or the strange people. I could not see any good in the move. It was certainly a transitional time in my development and I felt abandoned by God, a far cry from the life I had imagined for myself. I daily bargained with God in prayer; I pleaded with Him to take us out of that wasteland and deliver us back to the Promised Land.

As I grew accustomed to my new desert life, something happened. I cannot say that I grew to love it. There was always a sense of resentment in my heart for being forced there. Never-the-less, life went on. I went to school, made friends, and attended church. As I grew up, I began to accept the desert, though I did not stop longing for the green hills of east Tennessee. That came much later. As I began looking around the desert, I noticed there were rich resources of water in the desert also; but, unlike east Tennessee, there were no flowing rivers—only empty ravines. Instead, hidden Artisan wells supplied water for the Cottonwood trees to flourish in the desert. There was also food in the desert. Even the cacti produced fruit, which was used to make great candy and jellies. When these fruits fermented, coyotes got drunk. There are all sorts of smells in the desert.

I have a very rich memory of Tammy and me traveling home from seminary in Texas to visit our family in Tucson. We had been homesick for the desert. It was early in the morning, after sunrise, when an unusual rain shower came. Heading west on Interstate 10, my nose captured the first sweet smell of rain in the desert. I said to Tammy, “Can you smell the rain?” She smiled yes. The thin drops hit our Volkswagen windshield and then another smell aroused us. We quickly rolled down the windows and both breathed in the odor deeply. It was the smell of the Creosote bush. This wild desert bush emits a dry, musty smell that we both knew from our collective desert life. When rain drops hit the millions of Creosote bushes in the desert, they release an amazing smell into the atmosphere. Don’t misunderstand. The smell is not all that wonderful; but, for us, it was the smell of home.

Lost in this moment of memory, I guess I need to come back to why I thought I should tell this to you. There are times now when I relate the immature emotions of my childhood with the wasteland I am currently traveling through called the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Loosing Tammy shattered my dreams and the life I imagined for myself. The sights, sounds, and smells in this desert are strange to me. I am tempted to plead my case before the Heavenly Father and ask Him to deliver me out of this place quickly; but, I stop myself. I understand that He has a purpose for me in this desert; He has hidden beauty and rich resources in this place. I don't know that I want to love the valley of the shadow of death. I do believe that, while I am passing this way, it would be wise for me to look carefully to see what I could easily overlook. When pain threatens to consume me, I can miss what God has hidden in the desert. He has a rich supply, a never ending source, a fragrant aroma in the desert. He never promised me continual green pastures. He never said that I would always walk barefooted in a plump, green carpet of grass. Instead, He takes His beloved into dangerous and barren places, largely to improve our vision, our sight, and our sense of smell--to help us see what we would normally have missed.

Had God granted my youthful prayer request, I would not have met my fellow desert dweller: Tammy. I would have missed out on some of the richest experiences in life. I would have been less the man God wants me to be. I would have never learned to appreciate the thirst for God that the desert has produced in me.

Ed Litton

Psa. 63:1 “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Ten-Week Perspective

How am I doing?
I don't know, and I’m not able to be completely sure. There are a few more moments of joy, acceptance and laughter than ten weeks ago. The dull painful reality of being separated from Tammy lingers. The dailiness of life pushes me forward into the unknown future. I thank the Lord for that; otherwise I could see myself drowning in grief. I think this sense of greater responsibility keeps me from greater stupidity.

At the same time, I watch for my heart’s attempt to replace my grief with mindless entertainment or thoughtless repetition. There is nothing wrong with taking an aspirin for pain, but a bottle of aspirin is too much. At this moment the hardest part is not being able to talk to her. I know the solution is to talk more to the Lord. I do. Yet the ability to share every joy with her multiplied the joy. Talking out every worrisome thought reduced the worry. Giving her a handful of the broken shards of my faith and watching her help me piece them back together gave help in believing God for great things. The loss of the layers of our experiences together and our unspoken mutual understanding is greater than I can bear. See, there come the tears.

What brings me comfort?
My Lord. Our children. Friends. A great hearted church.

What is still hard?
Thursdays are hard. They mark the weekly anniversary of that terrible day in our lives. Thursday is the day when the phone call, the trip to the accident scene, the helicopter ride, telling my children and all of the painful events get a complete high definition rerun.

What is the toughest part?
There are many competitors for this ranking, but watching helplessly as your children hurt is tough.

How am I coping?
It is interesting––I often find myself asking, “What would Tammy do?” At Wal-Mart I turn to Kayla and ask, “What brand of laundry detergent would your mother pick?” because there are too many and I had no idea soap costs so much. I ask this in part to maintain some sense of normalcy, in part because she was so wise in the practical parts of living. I also ask, “What would Tammy do?” in respect to grief. If I had died, what would she have done? I think she would have been similarly devastated, but not to the point of being incapacitated. She would have found God's grace at every turn in the road, even though she hated winding mountain roads. I think she would have pressed on well, and I would have been proud of her.

Well, maybe. I’m coming to grips with a reality that has never hit me before. Tammy, as a pastor's wife, would have been in a totally different situation than I find myself as a pastor. You see, when I lost Tammy there was much I did not lose. A woman who faithfully serves as a pastor's wife and then loses her husband loses much more. She suffers the intense grief of her lost love as well as the additional blows of lost identity, lost income, lost security, lost companionship––and oftentimes the loss of a home, since many pastors’ families still live in church owned homes called parsonages. I have not lost my job, my security, my identity or my home. Like most people who have not suffered this kind of loss, I was amazingly insensitive to the nuance of it. So many women who lose their husbands in ministry also lose their pastor. I can only imagine the pain of watching as a new man and women are naturally called to live out, in their own way, the ministry she has seen cut short.

I don’t know how we as the body of Christ can better help those we love struggle through their grief, but I am convinced we must. Maybe we start by refusing to get frustrated when their grief outlives our own. One man wrote me, telling me how members of his church believed he was in sin one year after his son's tragic death, for not “getting beyond it.” I would get really mad, if it weren’t for the fact that I could actually see myself thinking something that stupid. We can help in practical ways by understanding tough decisions the grieving person faces and not judging them with our opinions. We can also pray for them and help when they need it.

At times I entertain the wish that it had been me and not her. But I shoo it away, because that is not my call. The sovereign heart of God alone has the right and wisdom to make such a choice. But I do believe that same God is honored and glorified when I seek wisdom from him and draw close with him to the broken hearted and those who are crushed in spirit.

Ed Litton

P.S. That’s what I mean when I say, “I’m fine!?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Revival?

Revival is the sovereign work of God that God's people must desire. The need for renewal and refreshing is always a significant need among God's people. We need daily revival. As a body of believers in the Church of our Lord we also need seasons of revival. Listen to the cry for revival from the heart of the Psalmist.
Psa. 85:6-7 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your unfailing love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.

Revival is the refusal to hide, cover, excuse, deny and ignore the corruption within us called sin. It is being honest about our sinful condition along with the renewed desire to be clean and wholly surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Psa. 51:10-11 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Revival is the restoration of joy of the salvation that is God's precious possession shared generously with us. It is the granting of a willing spirit.
Psa. 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Revival is the renewed desire to obey the word of God in the practical expressions of our daily living.
Psa. 119:9-11 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

Revival is the restoring of the reverence for God. It is a longing for the perfecting holiness of the Lord Jesus.
2Cor. 7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Revival is the refreshed reality of being cleansed from besetting sin.
John 15:3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Revival is renewed obediance.
Psa. 119:16-17 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. 17 Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word.

Revival is the revelation of deception in our lives. It is the clear and simple desire to obey the word of God. It is the longing to please and honor the Lord.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Revival is a renewed disgust for worthless things.
Psa. 119:37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

Revival is the rekindled desire to put away the old nature and experience the new life in Christ with is holiness and power.
Eph. 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Revival is the releasing of the resiliance of God's Spirit within us. It is the God-given ability to not surrender to defeat. It is the renewal of our spirit daily. It is not instant anything except the touch of God upon our lives. This is out of His grace and love for us and His bride, the Church.
2Cor. 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Revival is God's desire. Is it yours? Ask Him to bring revival to your life.

Luke 11:9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Ed Litton

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Wasting Disease of Unconfessed Sin.

Your emotions wince in pain, and your mind rejects the terrible message that someone in the news––or, worse, someone you know––is suffering from a virus or staph infection that cannot be controlled or stopped by antibiotics. Terms like "flesh-eating" and "wasting away" stop you in your tracks as you entertain the horrifying idea that something so small and yet so utterly terrible can take your health or even your life.

David expresses the heart of God in the 32nd Psalm. It is a song about the blessing of God's forgiveness. "Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him" (v. 2). David then digs into the deep and rich soil of his life experience and adds this powerful statement in verse three: "When I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long."

The worst wasting disease in the world is the disease of unconfessed sin. It eats our vitals and destroys God's creation within us. It takes the strongest part of the human anatomy, the skeletal structure, and eats our strength. "For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer" (v.4). There is little wonder that God hates sin.

Why do we not confess our sin? Because of a greater sin, pride. We fear being exposed in shame. We fear being seen not in control of our lives. We want our sin to be always private and never public. This explains why revival remains unrealized in most of our churches. Pride locks us into an unfeeling emotional state that needs the distraction of other people’s failures and sins so that we can ignore the wasting power of our own.

Our sin seems so manageable to us. In fact, our enemy helps us think this way because he knows the terrible, destructive power of sin within the Lord's creation--you. Are you keeping silent about your sin? I can guarantee you one thing: your silence is hurting you more than your open confession will. Your open acknowledgment of sin exposes the lies you have believed. Confession unplugs the power of your sin to control you. Telling the truth is scary--but once done, it liberates. "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (v.5).

The opportunity to come clean will not last forever. "Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him" (v.6). Trust me when I tell you from my own experience things happen that forever alter your life. A day will come when you will not be able to confess all known sin. Today is the day to end the wasting disease of sin in your life. Get with God, get clean and openly admit your faults. He has a marvelous way of restoring what has been eaten away.

James 5:16 says "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Ed Litton

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What is sin?

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

According to this verse, what is sin? Sin is anything that falls short of God's glory. We were made to glorify God; failure to do this (and we have all failed) is sin. Sin is any attitude, behavior, or lack thereof which fails to bring glory to God. Sin is the margin between God and us. Since sin is the difference between God and us, understanding the difference between how God responds, acts, and thinks and how we respond, act, and think is vital; knowing God is our critical mission. Sin is falling short of His perfection; this truth makes God the standard by which all behavior, all thinking, and all action must be rightly judged. Sin is not truly recognizable, or discernable, without a clear view of Him. He is the eternal contrast by which we see ourselves. He is the only standard of righteousness. James describes sin as independence from God and the stubborn refusal to do what is right. "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." (James 4:17) John describes sin as all wrongdoing. "All wrongdoing is sin." (1John 5:17) Paul says that sin is living without trust and dependence upon God, "...and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23)

Since we Christians have been forgiven of sin and seek to walk with God in righteousness, how should we see sin? Though sin is something to be avoided, overcome, and defeated in our lives, by God's grace, often it isn't. We are prone to fall victim to its seductive power. This happens in many ways. One common error I find in myself is that sin often lurks in my forgetfulness of God. Sin crouches in the tall grass, ever patient, waiting for its prey just beyond the edge of my forgetfulness of God's presence.

Jesus told Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat." (Luke 22:31) Our enemy seeks to separate us from the awareness of God's presence. In so doing we become open and vulnerable to sin's sharp, destructive teeth. We, the object of God's love and grace, become the object of Satan's hunger to shame God. Thus, our greatest need is to repent and once again enjoy fellowship with our Heavenly Father. Since repentance is coming back to an awareness of, fellowship with, and dependence upon God, we can thus measure our repentance by how closely we walk in awareness of Him in our lives. If we are truly repentant, our communion with Him and our dependence upon Him will increase. Every area of independence from God is a dark area, where sin patiently waits for its prey. Second Corinthians 5:15 tells us, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." What areas of your life are you living independent, or forgetful of God? In your behavior, how are you falling short of God's behavior? How should you repent? Remember, repentance is turning from your sin to dependence upon God.

Ed Litton

Monday, October 15, 2007

I Can Only Imagine

Though many find great comfort in thinking about heaven, I have not allowed myself to dwell much on thoughts of heaven. I know that seems odd for a man who has just seen the love of his life go to that great prepared place. I do not know why, but dwelling on heaven does not seem to bring me great comfort. In time, I am sure the truth of God's word about heaven will bring immeasurable comfort to me; but it isn’t a thought to which I want to run right now.

I have had moments when I have found comfort in the thought of seeing Tammy again. While swimming in just such a moment recently, something happened. I could picture Tammy, with a familiar look on her face—one she wore when she confronted me with the truth of either my bad attitude or something not so true that I was saying. Though I did not delight in seeing that look, it was one of her greatest acts of love. General Douglas MacArthur called his wife, Jean Marie, the general's general. Every general needs a general and, at times, Tammy was my general--a corrective source for my thoughts and crazy ideas. I miss her pure truthfulness and honesty, which was always seasoned with love and respect. During this recent brief moment, I imagined her, with that familiar look on her face, saying, "You know, Honey, before you see me, there is someone else you need to talk to first." I was flooded with deep conviction and realized that, in my grief, I was forgetting my Lord. I then did what I have often had to do: I repented. I asked the Lord to forgive me for allowing the thought of Him once again to fade.

The Lord can fade into the background of our pain, when grief makes us even more self-centered than usual. At that point, the truth may seem cruel, but it is not. We do not need a free pass. We need someone to tell us the truth; however, few are willing to do that, because they stand in awe of our pain and suffering.

I thank God for a faithful friend and wife who told me the truth when it was hard, inconvenient, or unpleasant. Thank you, Jesus, for creating Tammy and for giving her to me as my precious friend and partner in this oneness called marriage. My forgiven heart longs to see you, Lord; but, close by will be my friend, Tammy, who outlives life itself. I can only imagine.

Upon his wife’s death, Vance Havner said: "Death can hide; but not divide. She is with Christ on life's other side. She is with Christ and Christ is with me. United still in Christ are we."

Ed Litton

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hopeless?

Joseph could have been the poster child for hopelessness. Rejected by family, sold into slavery, falsely accused, forgotten and left in prison. Yet, Joseph finds his hope in God. He hopes for a day when God will bring into focus all the blurry details of his life. His hope was not easy or perfect. Yet he seems to daily manages to put his hope in the Lord. In Joseph's story we discover that circumstances are never what they appear to be. Your and my circumstances are seldom what we conclude they are. There can be hope in the midst of hopeless circumstances. For God's child there is hope even in the darkest prison. In life, things seldom turn out the way you hope. But when things do not turn out, this does not mean there is no hope. We must make sure our hope is anchored in God and not what we expected.

There are some very dark moments in my life. In the darkness of the prison of my grief I cry out to God. What I find is that hopelessness is the birthplace of hope. Hope does not need perfect circumstances to exist. As a matter of fact, hope is born in the ugly, dirty and painful maternity ward of sorrow, grief and suffering. That is where the first cry of hope is heard at the sound of God's slap, hope grasp for air and hope begins to breath.

While Joseph was there in prison the Bible says in Genesis 39:21, "The Lord was with Joseph..." What exactly does this mean? Speaking of Joseph the Psalmist writes: "...and he sent a man before them - Joseph, sold as a slave. 18 They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, 19 till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true." (Psa. 105:17-19) The Hebrew word, translated neck in most translations is the word nefesh or soul. The iron shakels were around his neck but there was a deeper iron shakel on his soul. That is one of the most poinant descriptions of grief I have ever heard. It remained until what was foretold came to pass or until God's promise proved him true. This speaks of the purpose of his testing. God was doing something in Joseph through the painful circumstances of his life. Our hope is not found in perfect circumstances but in the ever present Lord who works all his plans together in and through our lives. (Romans 8:28)

My soul cries for freedom while my God cries for transformation. I feel like I am in a prison of grief. I want freedom. Yet His Spirit says, You might as well embrace what God allows to come your way, because He is transforming you. Iron shakels are on my soul but God is smelting them into iron for my soul. This powerful, painful transformation is the work of God and God alone.

Is. 40:31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Ed Litton

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The "All" in His Abounding Grace

It is time for a personal testimony that I pray will become real personal to you. I have often wondered, as I assume you have, what would I do in a dark, terrible moment of sorrow and grief. How would I respond? The question always hung in space, unanswered, twirling before my mind. Well, this is a postcard from the unthinkable. Let me tell you what it is like.

I am not going to focus on the pain today, even though it is still very real. I am going to focus on God's grace. When and I do mean when, you suffer as one of His children, He really is present. He is genuinely drawn to His children and to others when we suffer. I want to add that He is more than just with you, although having Him with you is greater than having anyone else with you. No, he is not just a silent partner in your pain. He, well, how can I say it? I know, I will let the Apostle Paul say it. Paul was a man experienced in grief, struggle and suffering. 2Cor. 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

God is able. This means that the only thing between God's ability and your need is you and what you are willing to surrender to Him. Now, look at all the times Paul uses the word "All." We have access to all of God's grace. Grace is God's powerful working in our lives to do what we are incapable of doing. In Christ you get all grace which means that you get every kind of grace for every kind of impossible situation. Did you notice that it "abounds" to you. This is cornucopia language. This overflows like a basket of beautiful, fresh fruit. "So that in all things," stop there, whatever your painful struggle might be, stop comparing it to someone going through worse trials and miss what God has for you. Whatever you face is covered in "all things." "At all times," is another all inclusive statement. I find his grace saturates my times with him, with others and with God's word. I have "all" that I need. That is a powerful definition of God's grace. I may think I need some things or may intensely want something else but He gives me all I need. Sometimes it is like medicine, bitter to the taste, at other times it is a sweet desert made by a caring friend, but make no mistake it is his grace. Now, here is God's purpose and promise, "you will abound in every good work." God has a good work he is doing in and through this pain. That is more than something I hope or trust is true, it is true! Notice the language again, not the repeated "all" but the repeated use of "abound."

I for one, am glad that our Heavenly Father is a prodigal loving God because I have a prodigal heart. I love the way he receives the penitent sinner with open arms and an open heart. He throws a huge party, a great feast of fatted calf and restores completely and abundantly. He is quick to give responsibility because he has a good work in which he want his sons to abound. Question. What stands between you and God's ability to make all of his grace abound in your life of circumstances? Fear? Guilt and shame? A personal sense of unworthiness? Maybe, like the prodigal son and myself, you have a plan, an agenda for how to get back in his good graces. No, he has grace for you before you outline your plan to him.
I am amazed at the language of this verse. Paul says "God is able to make all grace abound to you." The shortage is not on his end. The failure is with you. James says that we simple do not have because we do not ask. Ask, believe and receive. Just now, stop reading and simply pray. Surrender you heart to him, and receive grace. Ask the Lord to come into your life, your situation and bring his abundant grace. He will. He certainly has in my life. He is able, are you
willing? Pain will drive you. Either it will press you away from him or further into his chest. You get to choose.

Ed Litton

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Through Not Over

The reality of an often repeated statement, made to me in the first hours and days of my sorrow, has hit me hard. As it is said, I know that the truth of this statement is undeniable, "you will never get over this." I rejected the concept at first or maybe I just wrestled with the fact that I did not want such a pronouncement made over me. It made me feel so powerless and I was already aware of how powerless I was to prevent this tragedy. As the pain bore down upon my soul and pressed into my heart, I found myself accepting this truth, that I would never get over this. Believe it or not, the hour soon came when I did not want to get over it.

I do not think God wants us to get over loss, sorrow and pain. The
twenty-third Psalm indicates that the Shepherd of our souls does not
lift us up and over the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Psa. 23:4 Even
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Did you see the key word in that verse? It was the fifth word from the
beginning in this translation. It is the word "through." It is God's
way to lead his people through the hard things in life not over them.

We somehow develop a set of expectations of God. We expect, I suppose,
that if he goes to such sacrificial lengths to save us that keeping us
from all harm, danger and loss would also fit into his job description.
He is by the way, a good shepherd. When we actually do suffer great
loss, we then have the expectation that he will lift us up above it,
twirling in the sky above our pain, seen by all. This is untrue not to
mention unreal and ultimately selfish. We can also contrive that
having suffered great loss and the accompanying pain that we deserve
some sort of break in at least the immediate future. This too is
untrue.

How terribly hard it is to sit with my adult son, struggling with the
pain of loosing his mother, who believed in him and loved him through
great struggles from birth to manhood. The cry of his heart is like
mine. Why? I hear a loss of confidence in the goodness of God in his
voice. I struggle with that one also. Deep down there is this
expectation that we could live life and escape this kind of pain. We
are not wide-eyed idealist. We have had our share of hard knocks and
pain before. This one, however, caught us blind sided. This is not
what we expected.

I have always believed that my journey in life was a walk with the
Lord. He is my shepherd. I knew that the road was scheduled to endure
some dark and difficult valleys. Loosing her was just too terrible a
thought to entertain in its fullness. So, beyond the shutter it would
bring, my mind would shake it off like unwanted rain and press on to
the immediate. That is what we do when we face the unthinkable. Most
of us have plenty of distractions in the immediacy of life.

Then it happens. We find ourselves standing on the shadows edge
looking into a darkness that is unspeakable. We want to run but where
do we go? Time presses us into the grief. In a confusing swirl of
emotions, most of which are horrible, we step into the unknown. The
canyon walls are steep and straight. They move upward higher than any
building in New York. They rise up and press in. The closest feeling
at this moment would be the most intense homesickness you ever
experienced as a child, multiplied by terror a million times. A
fearful sense of doom surrounds you. You expect to touch it in the
darkness at any moment but you never do. You step one foot forward,
then another. Soon, in the dark you realize that He is with you. His
Spirit wispers encouragement but it is hard to grasp what he just said.
He is patient with our pain and he understands. Often, he repeats
himself without any sense of pevishness or impatience. It is here you
remember that he is the good shepherd. You are his sheep and he is
leading you through no over.

He led the three Hebrew children through not over the fire. He refined them through some of the most intense persecution ever experienced by human beings. Through this he brought an empire to it's knees and taught us about the price of true worship. He led Abraham and Sarah through infertility with encouragement and a promise. He led obstinate Hebrews through desert sands to bitter watering holes, because he had a plan. The Lord is our shepherd. We shall not want.

One word gives me hope in this valley. It is the word "through." Through means I will make it to the other side. What does that world look like? I do not know and I will not speculate even thought it is my nature to so. The confidence I have at this moment is based soley upon a promise. Psa. 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." That is a different kind of promise that we would contrive for ourselves. It is not the removal of danger of the possibility of future hurt. It is greater. It is the promise of victory in the presence of real enemies. It is the promise of an anointing, a blessing from God, a power to face anything as long as we are walking with our shepherd. It is the promise of an overflowing in my life from the hands of my loving father who killed the fatted calf and hired a band the day I returned to him. He will not withhold any good thing from me. He is good. He is worthy of my life, my praise, my love given back in obediance. He leads me through not over. I do not want to wake up one day in some dreamy place where there is no memory of his greatness, his provision, his power manifested in me. I want to wear this wound as a badge of honor and glory to him. I love him! Beyond words, I return my love in the currency of trust.

Ed Litton

Monday, October 01, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Twenty years ago this coming Sunday God allowed me to become a Pastor. Before that moment, I trained, prayed, dreamed and planned to be a pastor because that is what God called me to be. I did not do this alone. I had the joy of a woman whom God used to love me, refine me, encourage me and help me in the task that He called me to. Like the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:7, "I became a servant of this gospel by
the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power." Also like the Apostle of the heart set free, I am the least of all people to be given such a critical task.

You see, God is full of mystery. In his mysterious way, hidden from the understanding of the wise, God revealed his wisdom through an assembly of his chosen followers, a collection of fools in the eyes of the world, but he calls us his church. Ephesians 3:10 says: "His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." This is the mystery, God has placed his plan of salvation for all mankind in the hands of redeemed sinners who obey
his word by gathering into family like groups called the local church. They gather to worship, pray and believe God together. They gather regularly to renew their loyalty to the gospel and each other. They gather to help, encourage and support one another, only then to be scattered into their culture in order to infect others with the same life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

Their purpose in life, their chief end is not personal happiness, but to give him glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! They live for their redeemer. They long for his return. They bring his hope to bear on a broken world. They bind up the wounded, they reach out to the rejected and they love as he loves them. This is his church, glorious as an army with banners. Powerful, in prayer and the hope of a nation. Yet, cursed by the shuttering evil one and despised among cowardly principalities.

I should not wonder that churches struggle. We are under the worst kind of ongoing spiritual attack. Why? Because the evil rulers and authorities in the heavenly places despise what we are. We bring hope because he has made us salt to preserve and light to reveal. We are the glorious church of the living God. With all of our struggles we yet represent God in this generation. His gentle hand lifts up your head and wipes your tears away with a smile that says, I am coming for you, soon. He is the love of your life. He is your kinsman redeemer. He is the Lord of glory, Jesus, our lover and lord!

We must stop going to church and just start being the church.

We must stop acting like Christians and start being Christians.

We must stop just being known as believers and start believing.

We are God's mysterious plan at work in this world, what greater significance could we desire?

We are called, equipped, empowered and deputized to represent our Lord to our neighbors with a love that cannot die. When we love him supremely we will obey him completely. We will never lack for power, never lack for joy and never lack for the fruit of changed lives. We are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I, for one, am glad and exceedingly humbled by God's choice to call me as an under-shepherd of his church. I consider it an honor to give myself to him by caring for, protecting and preparing his bride for her wedding day. Thank you Lord for calling me, equipping me and anointing me to pastor one of your churches.

Happy Anniversary Lord!

Ed Litton

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Badlands of Grief

As a boy the first book outside of scripture that I read was about Robert E. Lee. The second was about Theodore Roosevelt. TR became a hero to me. His overcoming, energetic spirit inspired me. I remember some key events in his life like the fact that he was sickly and exercised his way out of poor health. I remember admiring a young man's determination. I remembered something else about TR. As a young Assemblyman in New York, with a very promising future, his life was suddenly shattered by the death of his young wife, Alice Hathaway Lee at 22 years old.

The thing that made an impression on me was how Theodore responded to his great loss. He simply fled. He left the child born to he and Alice in the care of his sister. He left his elected position in the State Assembly. He left the life of privilege to go to North Dakota and live on a ranch in the Badlands. He hunted, rode, roped and chased horse thieves and in general sought to rid himself of a great grief. He once captured three outlaws and took them to jail enduring forty hours of sleeplessness. Roosevelt was for me the essence of manhood. Physically strong, determined and yet, wholly unprepared to deal with grief.

I remember thinking as a boy, if I ever experienced something like TR did, I would also run to the Badlands. I must admit that, in my hour of grief, I have been tempted to run. I have been tempted to ride, work, and hunt my way through this wilderness of grief. There is something about grief that makes a man want to run to the Badlands. I don't know if it is the sense of injustice that often comes with sorrow. I don't know if the aloneness promises comfort or if you just want to risk your life in some reckless way because it is not as bright and hopeful as it once was.

So why don't I run to the Badlands? I don't have to, it seems like the Badlands have run to me. I do not want you to think I am judging my hero TR. I understand better than ever why he did what he did. I am also strangely comforted by the fact that he returned. He was never the same but TR went on to greater adventures and became the youngest man in history to serve as the President of the United States. The tragedy of his running to the Badlands was that he never bonded to his daughter Alice. She was the daughter of TR and Alice Hathaway Lee. She grew up with a father who would not allow the name of her mother to be mentioned in his presence. Sadly, Alice had the same name as her mother. Rejected, disconnected and terribly alone in life, the beautiful Alice Roosevelt was banished to her own Badlands.

I do not know what all this means. Grief makes us all victims. Our response to grief is as varied as our fingerprints or DNA. It is tempting to do something very self centered. Our response does however, have a profound impact upon us and those whom we love. Great men and women have been marked by such sorrow. God seems to use those who have been broken. Oh, God I am broken. I do not want to withdraw from life or responsibility or my family. I feel deeply wounded and condemned to the Badlands of the soul. In the midst of those powerful feelings, I trust in the Lord to be my help and to strengthen me in my grief.

Please pray for the Litton family. Please pray for strength and grace to endure these days. Less we give you the wrong impression, that all is well and we don't hurt as bad as we did a few weeks ago, we hurt, we weep and we feel lost without her.

Thank You for your prayers!
Ed Litton