Friday, December 05, 2008

Riding With Arnold Palmer

A very good friend and I were at the same conference recently in Florida. We were playing golf in two different foursomes at a private country club. Between us was a foursome that contained golf legend Arnold Palmer. I saw him several times but was content not to hit him with my ball or with a club swinging wildly out of my hand.

My friend Gary played the first nine holes, then bowed out of the game and went for a walk. He began following quietly Arnold Palmer's game. Eventually he saw they’d noticed him following at a distance, so Gary went to Arnold and boldly asked permission to follow just to watch him play. The response was gracious, and my friend hugged tree after tree in order to watch a great athlete play a great game. At the final hole Arnold motioned for Gary to come over. After they’d introduced themselves, Gary asked if he could take Mr. Palmer's picture on his cell phone. "No, I want my picture taken with you." Another player snapped the shot of my friend with a toothy grin, his arms wrapped around the great Arnold Palmer. Then Arnold looked at my friend and said, "Gary, do you want to ride with me back to the clubhouse?"

When I heard the story I admit I felt a twinge of envy. Why hadn't I thought of that?

Well, let me tell you what I see in this simple and great little story. All too often, I, like Gary, feel drawn to the Lord. I sometimes get bold and watch Him from a distance. It feels safe watching as a fan of His amazing swing, the perfection with which He moves in this imperfect world. I sometimes feel my prayers would only be an interruption to a great and busy man. I would be overwhelmed if he posed in a picture with me. It would be enough to simply ride to the clubhouse with Him.

But every day He wakes me for our life together. Every night He meets me in the darkness with His comforting presence. Every noon hour His faithfulness guides me in perfect wisdom and love. God is with me. That is an overwhelming thought. It is also thrilling in its truth. The reality of Jesus coming as my Emmanuel weighs profoundly upon my life. I worship Jesus. He is God in the flesh. He came not to play a game but to break the curse of sin and death. He’ll never leave or forsake those for whom He suffered and died. He is alone worthy of my love, devotion and praise.


Ed Litton

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

Our world strongly fights the Christian distinction of loving the sinner and hating the sin. As Believers we find ourselves increasingly surrendering into silence about sin and fearfully refusing to confront its deadly consequences. Yet in the midst of this, we are commanded by Christ to love the sinner as valuable for one reason only, God loves him. This is a serious challenge for every believer in Christ yet it is possible because Christ treated people and their sins this way. This is a good place to be reminded of the truth of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

I am grateful this Thanksgiving that Christ loves me and hates my sin enough to provide the only remedy for my sin. He died on the cross to bear the punishment my sins deserve. Why? He loves me and hates my sin.
Amazing Love defined by an act of utter unselfishness.
Thank You Lord Jesus!
Ed Litton

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Out of the Valley

Today I’m wrestling with a question. Does there come a point when you realize you’re beyond the valley of the shadow of death spoken of in David’s 23rd Psalm—when you labor through to a sunlit upland where the music of birds explodes and color splashes the sky and gloriously drapes the landscape? Is it a sudden awakening or a slow realization? I’m sure the answers are as individual as grief is itself. Fifteen months after I entered this valley where death lingers like a shadow, I’m not sure where I stand.

Though I’ve been helped along these switchback trails by the tracks of others before me, the way has often been hard—no, impossible to navigate. Like many difficult hikes I’ve taken in life, I started this journey with my head down, fighting fear of the unknown. The most taxing part of the experience may be the darkness of the shadows, which can rob you of the desire to keep going.

We don’t walk this valley alone. Yes, we have our Good Shepherd, but the enemy is present too. He obeys no rules derived from a convention of war. He won’t hesitate to attack wounded prey, and he won’t bring comfort to the dying. The only thing keeping his evil in check is the Shepherd's powerful refusal to abandon His sheep.

One of the greatest challenges of the valley of the shadow is the irony that we walk blinded by sight. What is visible becomes our greatest obstacle to walking by faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us "We live by faith, not by sight." And just as truly we die in the absence of faith. In the valley we can’t physically see the Shepherd of our souls, but we can see the results of His goodness. By faith we feel the warmth of His presence. We see His comforting, His provision and His plan unfolding. Through the eyes of faith, we see Him intimately as the nail pierced hands hold us in moments of weakness. We know His presence in the darkest of night. We see Him beat back the wolves of loneliness and with His own two hands fight the mountain lions of despair.

I don’t really know where I am in this journey—I only know I’m not where I started. I don’t know how much farther I have to go, but as I stop on this hillside and look back, I realize I’ve come a mighty long way. I inhale the fresh air of my Shepherd’s loving provision and let the sun wash my tear-stained face.

I don’t know how much of the valley of the shadow remains, but I care less today than I did fifteen months ago. My overwhelming desire is that I never live a day, or a moment therein, without the awareness of my Good Shepherd’s presence, provision and protection. He is faithful and true! Jesus alone is worthy of my praise! I love Him more now than ever. I bow before His sovereign will and worship Him for His choices in this life. I accept the pain He inflicts with gladness, because He alone understands why.

I know this may sound over the top, but bear with this trail-worn heart of mine. I wouldn’t miss this journey for anything in the world, because I get to take it with Jesus. He is more precious to me today than fifteen months ago. I wouldn’t go back.

Surviving and Thriving by His Grace!
Ed Litton

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cleaning Out The Closet

In days past, I missed the significance of small things.  I never fully understood how painful they could be.  Last Friday I had to do something I’ve been avoiding for almost fifteen months.  In one sense, I’d written it off as a little thing.  In fact, though, cleaning out Tammy's closet was big.  Her clothes, which she kept neatly organized, have been hanging just the way she left them that Thursday morning of August 2007.  I’ve cried in that closet, touched the dresses she wore, and then shut the door, knowing someday I’d have to deal with them.  That day proved easy to avoid.  In the early stages of grief there are much more pressing things to take care of than cleaning a closet.  Cleaning a closet is no big deal—or so I told myself.

In reality, dealing with the clothing of your loved one is difficult.  It seems to say they really aren’t coming back.  I never consciously entertained the idea Tammy would need these things again, but letting go of the last vestige of a person can be a great challenge. In my head I know the clothes she now wears are of far greater quality than anything hanging in that closet…yet the memories, the smell, the order all spoke of her.  Truthfully, I was stunned by the beauty and frugality of her clothing.  She could get more out of less than anyone I’ve ever known.  For years I kidded from the pulpit that if I used Tammy as an illustration I’d have to buy her a dress.  This would be the last time I would hold one of her illustration dresses in my hands.  

Be patient with those who grieving.  It doesn’t help to tell them that not cleaning the closet of their lost love is a sign of grief gone bad or weakness.  They’ll find a way some day to do it.  Just pray that God will give them strength, and He will answer that prayer.  I cried.  No, at moments I howled with a grief that I’m glad no one but my Lord could hear.  Those clothes represent so much.  Her beauty.  Her sense of style.  Her wonderful smell.  Even the order of her closet, especially compared to mine, was a painful reminder of a loss too great to calculate.  I’m not holding back at this moment; this was much harder than I anticipated.  

Even so, there was a feeling of health in this necessary act of reconciling my loss with my need and desire to live.  I reminded myself that Tammy was so much more than what she wore.  Memories associated with her clothing, of things we did as a couple or as a family, filled the room.  I was instantly grateful for her once again.  Cleaning out the closet was a watershed moment.  I’m glad I wept tears that I thought might have dried up. 

That afternoon I took the contents of Tammy’s closet to a home for women fighting drug addiction.  She loved the ministry of the Home of Grace and always prayed for and supported that great work.  So it was fitting that these women, finding new beauty in Christ, should wear the clothes that reflected Tammy’s beauty.  

When I pulled my truck around to the back door of the building, several women came to help me carry in the hangers of clothes.  They touched me with their understanding of my brokenness, their gentleness no doubt shaped by sorrows of their own.  I began to weep. The awful pain filling my heart was mixed with the joy of knowing that Tammy's things would help women who now hope to have the noble character of women touched by God's grace.  That was Tammy's story, and she wore it well.

In the middle of suffering, the child of God can rest in the assurance that the Lord is working and moving for our good and His glory.  I now walk into an empty closet, but it doesn’t feel empty. It feels settled.  I think I’m ready for what comes next.

Ed Litton

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Sunrise

You would not believe the art displayed at this morning's sunrise. The sheer beauty of it stopped me in my tracks. I stopped running, stood silent and in awe. I don’t know how long I stood there, but after some time I became aware my mouth was hanging open in utter amazement at the craft of our amazing God. I now know why the morning stars sing and the angels shout for joy (Job 38:7).

Awed at the intensity of the amber sky, I could almost taste the sweetness of vermilion, the softness of shadows, the whispery edges of soft, fraying clouds stretched over the morning canvas. I wanted to paint it, show it, picture it so you could see it. As the sun rose, the clouds melted into long running streams. Smaller, darker clouds appeared in contrast to the primary blue sky, but they could only intensify the glory of this spectacular sunrise.

I had to go, but not for an appointment. I knew this art was for a moment only; by the time I walked home and looked back, it would be gone. God often makes beautiful, glorious things for short expressions of His brilliance, road signs for a hectic life that He is worthy of our praise, attention, love and worship. As I walked into my house, I looked back to the east. Sure enough, the sunrise had faded into the luminance of the day. Such was the way my morning began.

How often we miss Him. We pass Him on the street, we miss His might and power in small moments. We need only look beyond the obvious, and there we find the DNA of His genius, the power of His glory. According to Job 26:14, “these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” Imagine what He can do with a life canvas surrendered to Him. Imagine His greater works.

You are such a work of art of the Master. Stand in that thought and do not reject it. He’s the painter, you’re the canvas, and His glory is seen in you.

I stand in awe of the beauty He has created and recreated in you.

Ed Litton

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Turn Into the Darkness

In my early days with this unwanted friend called grief, I remember pain driving my thinking processes. I found myself considering things my heart couldn’t have borne in the days before my loss.

I readily identified with a man who suffered a much greater loss than I. His name is Jerry Sittser. Jerry is a professor at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He was traveling with his mother, his wife, Lynda, and their four children. A drunk driver traveling in the wrong lane hit the car with such force that Lynda, Jerry's mother and his youngest child were instantly killed. In his struggle with grief, Jerry Sittser tells of a dream. In the dream he was facing west, watching the setting sun. He began to run toward the sun to stay within its warmth and glow. In his dream Jerry was running to stay up with the sun so darkness would not overtake him, but he knew he was losing. His sister Diane appeared to him and counseled him to turn into the darkness and run toward the east. By doing this he would soon see the sunrise.

For those who grieve, little things matter. Most things in life take a lesser seat on the bus when you've lost the love of your life. Running from darkness seems natural. Running into or toward darkness is counterintuitive. It requires courage but amazing trust. Facing the uncertainty you fear isn’t easy, but it does have one simple and profound reward. It takes you to a place that only a God who sees in the dark can navigate. He, being the Good Shepherd, leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. Turning into the darkness of grief holds a tantalizing promise. You will again witness the rising of the sun. When I run in the early morning hours, stars dot the Alabama sky above me. I love watching the greater light chase the lesser lights into the day. Jesus has helped me through the dark night of my soul. The most glorious part of my journey is to see Him rise over my darkness and brighten the world I live in.

Jerry Sittser writes: "I discovered in that moment that I had the power to choose the direction my life would head….I decided from that point on to walk into the darkness rather than try to outrun it, to let my experience of loss take me on a journey wherever it would lead, and to allow myself to be transformed by my suffering rather than to think I could somehow avoid it."

Whatever your darkness is, you can face it with the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only refuses to abandon you, He waits patiently to reveal Himself to you. I would not trade the revelation of my Lord in the past thirteen months of darkness for anything. Anything? That's right.
Turning into my darkness!
Ed Litton

Friday, September 26, 2008

Disappointment with God

Sometimes we assume things that are far from life’s reality. For example, we assume we’ll have the health to do what we believe God called us to do, and we assume we’ll have the time and resources to do it. It’s natural to assume you’ll always have the love of your life by your side.

I’m sometimes asked if I feel cheated or angry about losing Tammy. Of course those are very real human emotions and, yes, I do struggle with them. Following her death, I realized that every dream I owned had her front and center. She was my dream buddy. We were in the throes of re-dreaming our lives, our family, and our ministry together. It was exciting to dream with her. She was so full of life and willing to go anywhere and do anything. She was developing a confidence that thrilled me and made me proud. It’s nearly impossible to imagine doing life without her. Yet death has separated us for now. The dreams died, but not the ability to dream. Am I disappointed? Yes, but not with God. Of course it’s tempting to blame Him, but I dare not, because He’s not the problem, nor is His plan for Tammy the problem. The problem is me.

I once assumed God's obvious grace and goodness to me had a lifetime guarantee. Never did He promise me Tammy would always be by my side. Never did He promise life would be a smooth road. Never does He promise things will go as I’ve planned. Like many people, I’m guilty of presumption. James poignantly addresses this problem.

"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” (James 4:13-14).

Life must be dreamed, planned and engineered to the best of our ability. This is the responsibility of every believer. What we cannot do is fight the Lord's right to a deeper or broader plan that governs the affairs of His children. We must hold to the knowledge that our lives are but a mist, or we’ll be consumed with disappointment in God and with life itself. We mustn’t slip into a twisted logic that pushes God away as impotent.

How then do you struggle? Disappointment can overwhelm us unless we meet God with a greater sense of trust—even when we don’t understand Him. We can trust His infinite wisdom and affection for us as we fall into His hands and wait for His moving. James encourages us to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that" (v. 15).

So this day begins for us with plans, schedules and appointments...Lord willing. We’ll do life to the best of our ability, according to His sovereign will. We’ll live and do this or that, and He’ll be glorified by our trust.

I am so satisfied with Jesus!

Ed Litton

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day by Day

Life comes in small bite-sized chunks of time called days. The truth is, though, we often obsess over even smaller pieces of time called seconds and minutes. Jesus said we’re to focus on one day at a time. Our minds wander to far-off places as we imagine how we’ll face the problems of that day. Still…life is daily. Painfully daily. God only allows us this day to “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) So what do I make of this day?

2 Corinthians 4:16 says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." Here’s the harsh and ugly reality of life: we’re wasting away. We suffer from the wasting disease of sin and decay. We suffer the effects of Newtonian physics and the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is going from a higher state of being to a lower state of being. When my teenager cleans her room—wait, that has never happened yet—oh well, when and if it ever happens, let’s say we sealed it off and no one entered that room for six months. Upon reentry we would discover that the room, even though clean six months ago, is in a lower state, with dust covering the once clean desktop. That’s the reality of entropy. Paul writes that even though we’re outwardly wasting away, we’re being inwardly renewed day by day.

The only truly renewable energy source in the world is “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) Each day as I meet with Him to set my heart and mind upon Him, He restores my soul, renews my mind and prepares me to live supernaturally in this day.

It’s with the long chain of such days linked together that a life is built secure. Let me challenge you to meet with Him day by day, so that you don’t lose heart in the Christian life. I believe that establishing this discipline in an earlier day of my life helped me profoundly when one tragic day came into my life. I awoke that morning as clueless as a puppy. I had no way of knowing the heartache in store for me. The next morning was a very different experience. Then there was the next day and the next. Having a daily time with God does not remove the sharpness of life’s pain. It does, however, keep you from losing heart. Proverbs says my heart is the wellspring of my life. It’s where God blesses me and refreshes me day by day. Keep the refreshing waters flowing and keep them uncontaminated, and they will refresh you and renew you day by day.

Life is daily.
Ed Litton

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Good Grief

In the twilight of my day, my daughter came to me, broken and longing to talk about the pain of her winter of grief. My heart knew that I was entering a holy place as she began to talk. I moved carefully and slowly as this beautiful young princess of my heart poured out grief from the cracking edges of her heart. As painful as it was for us both--there, just over her shoulder, stood joy. The joy of knowing that she would soon feel deeply satisfied to have spoken the unspeakable. Her tears will help her sleep this night. Her sorrow will soften her pillow tonight. Her sheets will feel fresher because of honest confession. Her soul will rest because of God's grace. Sleep will come, peaceful sleep, as winter slowly fades from our lives.
The loss of your love is not good in itself. The pain is piercingly chilly, but the warmth of spring comes. Flowers bloom and hope gently and fragrantly fills your air. This is good grief.
Ed Litton

P.S. My name is Kayla Litton and I approve this message!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Land of the Living


Ps. 118:17: “I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

There comes a point in grief where you realize God has allowed you to live and you must live on. Why? Why have you taken my love and left me? Why her and not me? Oh how often I wished it had been me. I’ve never thought God was obligated to answer my questions, and I’m sure I’ll someday appreciate His refusal to give me the desires of my confused heart. I have no intrinsic right to know anything—and I couldn’t pretend to understand what His answer might be, even if He gave it.

What I can see, and determine to live out, is the second part of the verse. I’m in the land of the living for a purpose. That purpose is to proclaim what the LORD has done. What the LORD has done for me is amazing. With great patient love and tenderness He meets me daily and provides my bread. He is the living water and I no longer thirst for other drinks. He is faithful and true to His own nature and dependably acts on my behalf. He is my intimate shepherd LORD. I feel His presence in the land of the living where it is painful to really live. He leads me with His eye upon me.

Do not fear if you should walk this way. If the LORD is your LORD, He cannot be anything but faithful. I won’t promise a painless walk. Sometimes following Him produces more pain.

Ps. 116:10: “I believed; therefore I said,
‘I am greatly afflicted.’"

Because He shows us how to love more deeply, it follows naturally that the pain of loss is more intense. But the fear is gone, because He promises to deliver us from death and its power forever. My testimony of God's grace is that He is doing this today—not in some distant tomorrow.

Ps. 116:8: “For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.”

Today I walk in the land of the living by the grace of God. I walk before Him and with Him and for Him. My God is faithful and true. As the anniversary of Tammy's death drew near, I had no idea what I would feel or experience. I found that my God was once again faithful to sustain me in the land of the living. There was an unusual peace and even joy.

Praise His Holy Name!

Ed Litton

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Dark Side of the Moon

When Apollo 13 suffered an air-tank explosion in the middle of their historic flight to the moon, they had to stay on course and follow their orbit around the moon and then allow the gravitational force of the earth to draw them home. On the back side of the moon they lost radio contact for some time, cutting off communication with their home on earth.

In grief you often feel like Commander Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise must have felt. Disconnected from all they were familiar with and as far away as any humans have ever been from home. They didn’t know how extensive the damage from the explosion was or what would happen upon reentering Earth's orbit. Grief takes you to dark places that are frightening for the ones going, but also for those who love the ones going there. Now that a year has passed since Tammy's death, let me share some of the things I’m learning from the dark side of grief’s moon.

First, God is faithful. Twelve months ago I looked down a very dark corridor, and the only things I saw were painful realities of more and greater potential losses. In those moments fear was so real, and in my grief I often had a loss of confidence in myself and even in God—which made the whole experience even more painful. Today I say I have survived what I utterly feared, and frankly it isn’t so bad. Why? Because looking this way twelve months ago, I left one very important thing out of my calculations: God. A big oversight, one might say. Yes, a very big oversight indeed. God reveals Himself to us in the present, and when we look too much to the future, we miss God and all He brings to bear upon our fearful unknown. When your future arrives He will be faithfully there, and He makes all the difference.

Second, the dark side of the moon is a lonely and barren place. The problem is we tend to focus on the words “lonely” and “barren.” No one wants to sign up for the lonely and barren. Yet it is the place God moves to reveal Himself most powerfully. Even if others tenderly care for you in your hours of grief, you may not be able to hear them. They may long to relieve your pain with great tears, but there is no guarantee their comfort will reach your wounded heart. On the dark side of the moon there’s another perspective. All of the heavens are open and blazing with glory. The Earth is blocked from view and the stars are amazing. There is much to see in the darkness of space. There is much to wonder at and be in awe of, that we would miss if we didn’t open our eyes. Traveling through grief, it’s often tempting to close your eyes and wait for it all to pass. God is in this journey. Whenever I struggled with difficult circumstances in life, Tammy would often say, "Sweetheart, God has you on a roller-coaster, throw up your hands and enjoy the ride."

Third, there’s a new kind of discovery. The Apollo 13 crew’s mission was to discover the Fra Mauro Highlands. This geological formation covers a vast portion of the lunar surface and is a rich discovery. As it was, another crew at another time would have the joy of that exploration. Death ends dreams and cancels missions. One of the most devastating aspects of grief is the sense of a new normal. Plans are erased, and you find yourself limping away from your dreams in a wounded lunar module. All seems lost, and you wonder if you’ll ever find your way home—much less ever have another dream. I’ve discovered that God is in the midst of new dreams and new directions for those who suffer loss. I can’t give you an example of all He has for my life. I’m still in the limping home stage on the dark side of the moon, but one thing is clear to me: I want to dream new dreams. I’m willing to try new things. This feels healthy.

I don’t declare anything with absolute assurance when it comes to my own grief journey. What I do declare with hope and confidence is that I am not alone. My Lord Jesus Christ has faithfully followed me all the days of my life, and He is with me now. His rod and staff comfort me. Yes, even though I walk through this dark side of the moon, I need not fear, for He is with me.

Ed Litton

I want to thank everyone who has prayed for me and my family. I have one simple request, "Please do not stop."

Friday, August 08, 2008

God For Us

I am sitting in one of the oddest times of my life. Full of joy and deep despair simultaneously. My emotions feel like a termite stuck in a yoyo. I do wonder when this thing is ever going to stop. Yet in the midst of strange, untrustworthy emotions, I find the only stability to be God's Word.

After Paul tells us in Romans 8 that God is working in all things for the good of those who are called, he then reminds us that if God is for us then who can be against us? It was the next verse that grabbed my heart and reminded me of all I needed to be reminded.

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

There is no need in my life that He can or will overlook. If he has provided graciously for all I really need, then whatever worries me today is no worry. If He didn’t spare his own son, but gave him up for Ed Litton to secure my greatest need, then anything else I truly need will surely be given. When I’m tempted to doubt whether or not God is really for me, all I need to do is remember those hands. Those nail pierced hands tell me everything I need to know. His provision comes from his hand. Every time I look to his hands I am reminded by those marks that any provision is secondary to his ultimate provision. I can tell my emotions to shut up and sit still because I just remembered that my God has already proven His great love for me.

Romans 8 also tells us that the Holy Spirit groans before God for us. Then verse 34 adds this amazing truth.

"Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

You and I, as God's chosen children, always have two who never fail to pray for us. Even if you think no one is aware of your sorrow or pain, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit share an "inter-Trinitarian" prayer language that I call "Groan." They groan on our behalf. The amazing thing about this special language is that they always know exactly how to pray for us according to the will of God the Father.

What more can I ask? What more do I need? The only thing remaining is for me to choose to trust a good God who did not spare His own Son. He will give us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. That comforts this hurting heart today. Let it comfort you! God need not prove His love for us any further. God is for us!

Ed Litton

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fog

Whenever I encounter a fog I experience the same response. At first, a sense of awe at the beauty and mystery. I’ve watched fog cross mountain peaks and settle low on the dirty streets of New York City. I’ve stood in a chilly morning stream fly fishing as fog dances across the water like a wispy ballerina. I’m a fan of God's creative flare. Fog forms when the difference between the temperature and dew point is five degrees or less. At this point, even a small amount of water transforms into a gas and becomes visibly suspended in the atmosphere. The mystery of fog draws me and makes me lose myself in wonder.
After a brief sense of awe, I then remember how dangerous this natural phenomenon can be. In 1977 a convocation of circumstances caused one of the airline industry’s worst disasters. On the tiny Island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands two 747's became aimless and confused in an unexpected fog. Miscommunication led one pilot to attempt a take-off while the other was assured it would be safe to cross the runway. The two 747's crashed and burned on the runway, and the collision killed 575 people. Fog creates conditions that are very dangerous, especially when humans act with normal operational assumptions.
I must admit that on the most basic personal level I have been living in a fog of grief. I don’t mean the emotional confusion you experience at first, when death robs you and your aching heart can’t find its footing. I’m talking about later in the process of grief. The danger is not the fog as much as my assumption that I can navigate as if I’m under normal conditions. At best, fog is God's warning to us that conditions change and it’s best to be still. Fog is attractive to the grieving because it covers the ugly reality of our lives. Fog can be a beautiful and welcome break from our aching pain. However, to attempt normal movement forward in fog puts us at great risk of damage and destruction. This is a time when communication with the tower is critical. Following instructions is fundamental. Repeating commands, questions and caution should and must rule.
Fog is beautiful and dangerous, and thank God it doesn’t last. It burns off when the sun rises and warms the glowing amber earth. The wisest counsel to my soul in a fog is from the very heart of God.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen,
I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
Psalm 46:10-11 (KJV)
I gladly confess that I have no one in whom to trust but the Lord. I joyfully conclude that He alone is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble, therefore I will not fear the fog or the grief of my life.
Ed Litton

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What do you ask for from God?

David sought after one thing. In the midst of difficult days, he asked for the privilege and blessing of dwelling in the house of the Lord. He desired to walk with God and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. He put this amazing thought into words in the twenty-seventh Psalm.

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

Notice that David doesn’t seem to be asking for something in the sweet by-and-by. He’s clearly asking for favor from the Lord in the nasty here-and-now. In the middle of heartache, trials, attacks and setbacks, David is asking for an audience with the LORD.

Where do you go when your world falls apart? The Christian life isn’t meant to be lived in a stained-glass cathedral. It’s meant to be lived in the heat of battle, heartache and even despair. The LORD delights to dwell with us in the midst of trouble because He knows others are watching Him with us.
We all need quiet, reverent places to be still and know that He is God. However, we live in a world of noise, conflict and battle. When you read the rest of the Psalm, you realize David is in the thick of tangled difficulty. Yet in the sweltering heat of trials his focus is to remain in the LORD's house.

And the LORD has a big house. A woman who had six children was asked how she could possibly love all six equally. She quickly responded, "Each time the LORD gave me another child I added a room onto my heart. Each child has a very special place to live within my heart." That’s a great perspective. How can the God of billions of people ever love and care for some insignificant child like me? The answer that “He is infinite” hits the head but misses the heart. Our God's heart simply and profoundly added a room the day He thought of you. The Lord is preparing a place for you, yet there is—here and now—a place in the great heart of God for you to be His special child. We know He has no favorites—but you can sure be one of His intimates.

David clearly felt an intimacy with the Lord as he asked to dwell with Him all the days of his life. Resist the temptation to run to empty places for comfort. Run to the LORD! Ask one thing of Him, seek one thing from Him—the blessing of living this day with Him, wherever this day finds you. Aware of Him, dependent upon Him and obedient to Him. Expect to see God moving in mysterious ways today. Expect to look back upon this day in amazement.

David then concludes thus:

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

Today I choose to seek the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Death has touched me with chilling reality, yet I am alive in Christ, and I see His goodness in the land of the living. Praise the Lord!

Ed Litton

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Aloneness of Loneliness

Most of us are intimidated by loneliness to the point we’ll do almost anything to avoid being alone. We leave the television on when we're not watching, the radio while we work, the iPod while we exercise. We seem intimidated by quiet because it reminds us we are alone.

Aloneness is painful and intimidating. It causes us to feel forgotten or abandoned. And the worst and most painful reality for some is that we assume God has abandoned us. His silence is terrifying and makes our worst fear seem to become reality. We feel rejected by everyone.

In my own loneliness I have come to discover some things. Loneliness is God's workbench where the master craftsman does His most brilliant work alone. Most of us remain unaware that God is doing anything in our lives until the work is done. He seems to delight in doing His work this way. He must love surprises.

The Apostle Paul spent extended time with God in this desert called aloneness. Years passed as Moses languished in obscurity while God sanded a rough man into a mighty messenger of God. David was forced to live in a lonely places miles from anyone he knew or loved. Even Hagar, the young servant of Sarah, found herself in a desperate and lonely place.

After Abraham and Sarah foolishly attempted to use another human being to satisfy their desire for a child, they rejected her as unworthy of their company. Hagar the handmaiden became for them little more than a means to an end. In the midst of that painful reality, Hagar fled her mistress. Gen. 16:8 tells us the Angel of the Lord came and found her. “And he said, ‘Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,’ she answered.” Hagar's cure for the deep pain of loneliness, rejection and abuse is interesting. It was to run into greater loneliness. Often our reaction to our loneliness leads to more of the same—only more intense.

Then God revealed Himself to Hagar in that lonely desert place. The experience was so real and so powerful that she offers all the world a new insight to the character and nature of our God. Notice what she says: “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Gen. 16:13). He is the God who sees me. What a revelation. God sees me. In a world of more than five billion people, God can and does see me in my aloneness. God sees you and knows the intimate and intimidating details of your aloneness. The truth is that even in the most lonely place you are never alone. God revealed Himself in the advent of our Savior and His Son as Immanuel, "God with us." We are never alone. Ever.

In a conversation yesterday, a man I barely know asked me if I would ever consider doing something that I have longed to do for years. I won't muddy this stream with needless details; suffice it to say, I have waited for such an opportunity and only the Lord knew what was in my heart. As a matter of fact, before I met this man for lunch I prayed, Lord, if you want me to do this thing, have him suggest it. He did, and I knew once again that I was not alone. The Lord sometimes hides us beneath His wings, waiting for the appointed hour when He raises His pinions and reveals His mighty work in and through our lonely lives. What a God! What an awesome, mighty, mysterious God! He is worthy of my praise! I praise Him!

My aloneness and loneliness are not so intimidating anymore!
Ed Litton

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Grief Mostly Observed

One of the most difficult things in life is to observe the grief of someone you care for—and discipline yourself to do nothing. Every impulse of love electrifies us into action, because we’re afraid inaction will be confused with uncaring. I’m not suggesting that doing nothing is a virtue in most cases. I do assert that resisting giving easy answers and waiting for God's Spirit to allow your heart to be broken is truly comforting in the life of the grieving.

I have a great many friends who, in my hour of loss, moved to action. I deeply appreciate the practical love expressed to me and my children. But I’ve also come to appreciate the most thoughtful ones who acted not out of impulse but in deliberate caring. The word care has it's root in the Gothic word "kara" which means "lament." To care is first and foremost a word which means to grieve with, express sorrow and cry. To care is to come alongside the grieving and do little more than weep with those who weep.

What appears to be doing nothing is, in fact, one of the deepest acts of love a human can express. Jesus modeled this for us with Mary and Martha at the loss of their brother Lazarus. Yes, the grieving need practical ministry, but they also need stronghearted people who can just weep with them without giving in to the temptation to offer answers for that which the soul cannot grasp. Job's friends did well for the first week or so of Job's prolonged and confusing suffering. Then they all three gave in to their darkest nature and began to argue with this hurting man—proving their own arrogance.

The reason we offer answers to the unanswerable questions of suffering sometimes comes from our own need to be in control. When we bring "care" to our hurting friends like professionals and not broken-hearted friends, it places us in a powerful position over them. We seek to cure them, when, if we’re honest, we don’t posses the cure. This is why, for the grieving, the "comfort" so many bring instead offends and often curses.

I admit it’s a dangerous thing to get near the brokenhearted and the crushed. I find great comfort that the Lord is not afraid to draw near. Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” It’s in drawing near and weeping that we bring an inexpressible comfort which the grieving learn to appreciate later and never forget. Don’t be afraid to be silent in the face of a friend's loss. Life can be inexpressibly hard, and there are tragic events that take your breath away and leave you speechless. Be careful and be willing to offer nothing but yourself, your tears and your willingness to let your heart be broken with your friend. You will find the undying gratitude of the grieving and yourself becoming more like Christ.

Ed Litton

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Face of an Angel

In Acts chapter six, Stephen is listed as the first deacon. He’s said to be full of the Holy Spirit and faith, as well as God's grace and power. There’s clearly something unusual about Stephen--Christianity's first, but not last, martyr.

During his trial, as angry men hurl contrived allegations at Stephen, Scripture says the Sanhedrin notice his face looks like that of an angel. I suppose this means there was a peace, a calm, maybe even a supernatural beauty to his face. There in the heat of extreme danger, this deacon was so full of the Holy Spirit, God's peace controlling his heart, it showed on his face. This intrigues me.

How can a person in such danger have such peace? The answer is surrender. Surrender of what? Everything! If we cling to anything in life, even good things, we’ll find ourselves robbed of joy. We’ll find ourselves taking mental inventory of our "things," wondering where we placed them last and if they’re safe. Surrender says: give it away--for this is the only sure way to keep track of things without worry. Surrender says: my life is not my own to do with as I please. Stephen, even in the midst of the most stressful of situations, has such peace and joy that those looking at him compare his face to an angel. Even as stones pelt him to the ground, Stephen looks up with joyful praise for the Lord.

What a supernatural and radical way of living! A way of living that honors Christ by finding joy in pain and peace in suffering. We often think joy, peace and fulfillment come with pleasant circumstances. But for the child of God, joy comes with hardship, struggle, trial, conflict--and, yes, even loss. To me, the most interesting part of the story of Acts chapter six and seven is that people are watching. God knows how to display His greatest drama. The onlookers see how a genuine Christian lives and dies. They see firsthand how Christ transforms the most painful life events into a platform of grace.

Never forget these words, for this is the reason Stephen suffered as he did. God is always doing something more than we can perceive, and He certainly was at work on this day. Stephen's bold sermon infuriated the spiritual leaders of Israel and they moved to kill him. According to Acts 7:57-58, “they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

Saul, the instigator, stood in the shadows, doubtless finding perverse pleasure in the death of this young "infidel." He couldn’t know then how his life would be transformed by this moment. This young man Saul would become Paul, the Apostle of the heart set free. Paul would remember this moment countless times as he himself suffered and found God's joy in the midst of danger. The world knows of the gospel of Jesus largely because of Paul--and there would be no Paul were it not for a young man with “the face of an angel.”

How are you suffering? Don't wait to find joy in the conclusion of it--ask God to reveal His joy in the midst of it. God is doing something more than you can perceive right now, and it likely has to do with someone discovering the God of love and grace. They will find God's grace in the face of an angel and that face may belong to you.

Ed Litton

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Flight Interrupted

My children and I are taking a few days away just prior to the Southern Baptist Convention. We flew from Mobile to Memphis and then on to Indianapolis. Our flight took off from Memphis on time. Ten minutes into the flight there was a loud noise beneath us, the sound of the plane’s landing gear lumbering down. Kayla and I were sitting together; the boys, Josh and Tyler, were behind us a few rows back. Kayla was asleep. I turned to see if the boys were worried. They were but I motioned to Josh a thumbs up. I was concerned. I began praying. As I checked my emotions I felt a strange peace. Strange in the sense that I was not afraid of dying. In times past I have been terrified by much smaller events in mid air. I was concerned for my kids, especially Kayla, who has been traumatized by the car accident with Tammy just over nine months ago.

We later discovered that the front landing gear didn’t go up on take off. The pilot did a masterful job calming the passengers and getting back to Memphis. Our plane circled in a fly by the control tower to make certain that all the gear was down, then attempted a landing. At the end of the runway I could see fire fighters and equipment standing ready. Thankfully the landing gear was in working condition and we landed safely.

That was a little more drama that I was expecting today. And it reminds me that "my time" may come at any time. We don't have guarantees of a long life, but we do have a guarantee of life. As I prayed I sensed confidence in the Lord as my shepherd. If this was it, then this was it, and I know my family is ready to go. Yet I wanted to live on. This is the dilemma Paul addresses in Philippians 1:21-23: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far."

Death doesn’t hold the terrors it once did for me. I’m grateful for that. I was shaken, but it was more for my children and how to help them navigate this very real part of living. As Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” I am proud of my kids. After a brief stay back in Memphis, we loaded ourselves onto another flight and continued on to Indianapolis.


Ed Litton

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

When God Says "NO!"

When the Lord says a sovereign "No!" to something you deeply desire, how do you handle it?

King David's desire was to build a house for the Lord in the city that bore his name, the City of David. The prophet Nathan agreed that it was a great idea. Second Samuel 7:3 says: "Nathan replied to the king, 'Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.'” It is tempting to assume that because God has moved through a person in the past, God's will can be automatically known for the future. Nathan was in for a surprise when God make it clear that David was not to build the Temple.

I am amazed at David's response. He is clearly disappointed with God's plan. Which tells the grieving that it is okay to be disappointed with God's plan and even God Himself. Denying the obvious never really helped anyone. This was David's dream, dying before his very eyes. God reveals that His reasoning related to the fact that David was a man of great bloodshed. God isn’t obligated to reveal this much information. This revelation must have left David with a great sense of grief and regret. Still, David bounced back from whatever disappointment he experienced and released his dream project to his son, Solomon.

Then David does something unexpected. A lesser man would have dropped the idea, washed his hands of the project and simply walked away. Not this man after God's own heart. David remained focused on the real reason for the temple, which was to glorify God. He released amazing resources to his young and inexperienced son so that in the proper time God's house would be built.

How do you and I respond to disappointing news from God? Like David, we get to choose how we respond. We can sulk in self pity. We can get angry. We can throw up guilty hands and simply walk away. The other option is to do what David did—surrender to God's sovereignty and roll up our sleeves to help the one God has chosen to lead, even if that one is younger and inexperienced.

First Chronicles 22:5 says: "My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the LORD should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it." So David made extensive preparations before his death.

How you handle God's "No!" determines much about you! You don't have to like it, but you must surrender to it. In the surrender there is joy, the kind of joy that cannot be explained, unspeakable and full of glory. David's temple never came to be, but God's temple was glorious. Generations would marvel and meet God there. One day a visitor to this great temple—a visitor who taught old men as a young boy, who held the crowd spellbound in His teaching, and who did intellectual and spiritual battle within its colonnades—would from there reveal that the real Temple was himself.

In your disappointment with God's will, remember it isn't about us or even our dreams. It’s about the Son of David, Jesus! This focus does not take away all disappointment, but it sure helps us to focus on what matters most.

Ed Litton

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Rabbi's Dust

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 NIV)

You can walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and fear no evil because of whom you walk with. The Good Shepherd is close to those who broken are crushed in Spirit (Ps. 34:18). It is clear in God's Word and my own experience that the Lord personally walks us through our griefs, sorrows and sufferings. In the Christian life, the Bible indicates that at times He dispatches ministering spirits, otherwise known as angels, to the service of His people. He matches the sick with a healer like Dr. Luke. For those who are discouraged He gives a Barnabas kind of friend. To those who are hungry and lonely with a Martha, Mary and Lazarus, but when we walk into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, He comes. Describing the scary journey through the shadowed land of Psalm 23, David switches from the third person tense to the second person: "...for you are with me." When the Good Shepherd of your soul is with you, it is impossible to walk in darkness, even when you are walking in a dark place. Jesus promised that those who walk close to Him will "never" walk in darkness. You have the light of life.

An ancient rabbinical blessing highlights the role of a disciple as well as the power of the teacher. Most rabbis in the time of Jesus had young disciples who followed them. It was the Hebrew custom to walk very close to your rabbi or teacher so that you could learn of his ways in every area of life. The blessing was something like this: "May the dust of your rabbi be upon you!" In other words, may you walk so close to your teacher that his dust would be upon you at the end of the day.

How closely are you walking with your Rabbi? Our Lord leads us into some pretty scary places. He has no qualms about our fears and timidity; He pushes us to strengthen us. He himself will always go to the most desperate places, meeting the most desperate people. Today as you walk with your Rabbi, stay close and let His dust be upon you. Do not live for your comfort, live for Him. At the end of the day when the mealtime comes, He will take a basin and towel and wash his dust from your feet and remind you of how dangerous it is to walk this earth without him. In that moment, all your daily lessons and insights will make more sense, and you will breath a deep sigh as you realize that you've spent another day in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and that you feared no evil.

What a Savior!
Ed Litton

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Heart

Sometimes my heart is like my dog Baxter. My light brown lab/chow mix is a monster in size and has a body full of energy. He lives to see and be seen by the members of our family. His favorite dog game is to play "RAA" No, this is not named after an Egyptian deity, but a silly game from his pup-days, where I say "RAA" and he begins running circles as fast as he can run around our back yard. He is playful, fun and has no clue where enough meets with enough.

My heart, like Baxter, wants to run and play and get way ahead of where I need to be. My heart seems to sniff rain coming in the distance, and it brightens at the prospect. My heart longs to see my master and hear him say "RAAA!" As a survivor of the loss of the love of your life, it’s tempting to spend much time in the shadows of grief. Strangely these shadows become a way of life, and playfulness is not a part of that life. But there’s a Baxter inside me that wants to run wide open. I want to feel the wind again, but my feelings need to wait. Waiting isn’t easy for Baxter, and it’s not easy for my heart either. "Heart, sit still!” I command. Yet sometimes it just doesn't. Like Baxter, it seems to want to obey, but its tail never stops. “Wait upon your Lord!" Even in my stillness I have a restlessness that longs to run. Sitting and waiting is good for me. He caresses and speaks to me in my waiting. Like Baxter, I don’t want to miss this joyous moment either. I want to run, but something in me knows better and I dare not miss his hand.

All alone in a strange place the other night, I closed my eyes to rest in total darkness. These elements can create an intimidating sadness, yet I’ve learned at these moments to talk out loud to my Lord. I thanked him for his grace for the day. I reviewed my coming and going and enjoyed the review. A warm tear ran from my eyes down into my ear. Then I felt something pressing, gently but firmly, on my right arm, near where my arm and shoulder meet. The pressure was so real I was tempted to turn on a light and see what it was. But something in me feared moving even an inch, for fear this sense of comfort might melt away. It felt exactly as if someone had placed a hand on my upper arm. I didn’t move and it didn’t go away. I’m not sure if I would’ve called myself a mystic before, but I’m quite sure you know I am one now. I knew that hand was a quiet gentle touch from my Lord. "Be still and know that I am God!" His word spoke to me. His goodness and mercy firmly and gently sat guarding my heart that night. I’m at rest in my aloneness, but my heart is ready to run at the sound of "RAA!"

Ed Litton

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Awful Grace of God

I don’t know how one measures grief. A dear friend recently challenged me that, being too busy ministering to others, maybe I haven’t yet begun to grieve. The thought troubled me, and I didn’t answer for a moment. It was going to take me some time to work out this thought. One thing I’ve concluded in my suffering is that spiritual stamina thrives in conflict and challenge. Grief is God's avenue where wisdom is found. So embracing my struggles advances my spiritual life.

Grieving people are conflicted people. In grief and suffering we tend naturally to rebel against the loss and pain, and sometimes we find ourselves warring with God. We are at odds with His new plan that interrupts our lives and our joy. This trial requires humble submission when all-out rebellion fills your heart. What is the child of God to do? You do have an option, besides submission to God's sovereign will—not a good option, but many take it nonetheless. Grief often leads you to this unthinkable option, since your grief is just that. You are at that moment quite at odds with God, and you have just embraced bitterness as the other option.

The bitter option is always near. The refusal to accept our circumstances stiffens our rebellion toward God as our will flexes and pushes like a child's arching back. We scream as we awkwardly demand release. We become like a sulking child who will not be comforted and who rejects the Father's very presence. We are here most inconsolable.

Deut. 29:18 says, “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (NIV).

The book of Hebrews also speaks of this bitter root that produces dangerous poison and by which many are defiled. Grief visits us as individuals, but no one suffers its consequences alone. The bitter root often remains hidden and forgotten by others. The bitter grieving choice leaves its true victim in a dangerous dilemma. The only source of genuine comfort is pushed away, suffering intensifies, isolation darkens and pain rubs a very raw place upon the soul.

Our Father God refuses to let our tantrum push Him away. If we yield to his love, we find the comfort only He can give. We also find the only option that has hope. Grief will not leave you as it finds you, and there is no going back to what you once were. Yet our Father has plans, dreams and hope. There is at this moment peace as we collapse into his arms. It is a strange peace that often baffles friends and observers. It is easily misunderstood, but make no mistake—it is God's grace.

I daily face a choice to give into bitterness or to press into this grief, embracing my God. No, this is not an easy place, but you learn not to adore easy places. God has a greater plan for my life with a future and a hope. Accepting my loss and embracing Him brings the ability to face tomorrow. God's grace is an uncomfortable grace, but it brings wisdom as one of its great gifts. The poet Aeschylus wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” I embrace grace today and trust His grace for tomorrow. I am not able to measure my grief, but I can measure His infinite love where it wraps around me.

Ed Litton
Painting: Biblia Sacra by Salvador Dali

Friday, April 25, 2008

Worthy Sacrifice

One of the toughest things about grief is that it is a narcissistic experience. It consumes you with you. I find this to be a most exhausting experience. If I don’t remain conscious of others in pain, I will think, "I alone am abandoned in my suffering." In fact I am not alone—even if my grief is unique by the standards of others. Even if your experience terrifies others as they look at you as Eliphaz the Temanite must have looked a Job, you are not alone.

Grief gives you few options. The pain of it makes you think of little else but your hurt. In the midst of this pain and consuming focus there is, however, a hopeful option. We can offer our grief and suffering to the Lord as a sacrifice. Psalm 51:17 says: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (NIV).

As an act of worship, intelligent and thoughtful, we offer back to Him that which consumes us as a sacrifice of praise. This is not appeasement of deity; it is, however, a releasing of control and surrender to His utter goodness. Which you may doubt more at this moment than ever. Our reason to give it to Him is that He alone can transform it for His glory. 1Cor. 7:17 reminds us: "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches" (NAS). We actually have a stewardship of our suffering. We are responsible to use it for a platform or a dark backdrop that reveals His glorious grace. People watch at the moments of our extreme suffering like at no other time. The world asks a collective question that seldom passes their lips but never leaves their thinking: "Is Jesus real?"

Yes He is real! He is real in my life, my joy and in my heartache. He may not be the god I want, but He is the God who is. I surrender to Him and trust, and in this He is glorified. David's words haunt me: “For I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

Ed Litton

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Adventures in Loneliness

You've got to be kidding? Loneliness an adventure? If you’re willing to consider the ridiculous, hear me out. You get the sense that God knows it’s not good for man to be alone, yet loneliness is one powerful tool He uses to grace our lives. I’m not a fan of loneliness, and I don’t sing its praises—especially its darker and more foreboding moments. However, there’s a perspective on loneliness that has helped me of late.

The missionary Jim Elliot saw a parallel between the difficult work of the gospel he faced and the search for gold in the Yukon a hundred years earlier. In his journal he recorded a poem by Robert Service called "The Law of the Yukon."

"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane,
Strong for the red-rage of battle, sane for I harry them sore.
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core...
And I wait for the men who will win me - and I will not be won in a day,
And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle and suave and mild,
But by men with the hearts of Vikings and the simple faith of a child,
Desperate, strong, and resistless, unthrottled by fear and defeat,
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat."

The Yukon gold searchers knew the gold was hidden in "them thar hills." They knew that finding it would take more than mere curiosity, it would take men of amazing wills and strong hearts. So it is with the gold hidden in loneliness. Some are lonely in a crowd, lonely in a marriage with a partner softly snoring next to them, and some are lonely even as the world seems to spin in orbit around their bright personality. Loneliness is not just a problem for the single in life, it is a part of the whole human condition. Face it, we have been fighting loneliness ever since the Fall.

How we face it is the more important issue. We can either fold in defeat under its boarish crushing or we can see it as an opportunity to do deep and difficult work, all the while trusting that God hides his most valuable gold deep in the fields of hardship. Elizabeth Elliot said that loneliness is having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have. We cry, "God if you loved me you would fix this!" No, that is precisely why He refuses to fix this. He wants us to purchase the field of our loneliness with our trusting tears, for in it hides the secret treasure of gold. Those who find it will one day see it tested by the fire of God's own holiness and will glory in its resplendent beauty. They will see their reflection in it and be glad they did not quit trusting the faithfulness of God too soon.

It’s worth the price of loneliness to purchase this field. Lean into the plow, embrace the reins, and tell your weary, doubting mind to be silent before your God in the battle of loneliness. If I know Christ as an intimate friend rather than a religious icon, how can I declare that I am ever alone? He is my ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). How can I be so faithless as to fold under the pressure of my want or pain? The pain of wanting another's arms to surround or a smile to brighten my weary life is great. The hope of another companion is too powerful and terrifying to consider beyond a passing thought. In this present I have Him. He is faithful and true, and I feel the pain of loneliness lighten when I see the adventure my God designs even in this. He never leads us to uncharted places without a grander design. We are His Yukon explorers paving a way of hope for others who will inevitably and surely follow.

I want to be for Him one of those men with a heart like a Viking and faith like a child. Desperate, strong and learning even from my defeat. I want to bring him gifts of gold to lay at his nail-pierced feet. What a Savior! What a worthy awesome Savior! Worthy of my suffering faith and helpless heart forced to bend at his feet and shout to Him, Glory and Praise!

The Adventure Continues!
Ed Litton

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Homesick

In my strange and mysterious journey of grief I’ve stumbled into something, an odd and most unwelcome emotion, hard to cope with and even more difficult to understand. I can only describe this feeling as homesickness. I’ve shared this before but it feels like I did as a boy when I was spending the night at a friend’s home and it began to get dark. I wanted to be near my home; I was anxious to be with the people I loved and who loved me.
The crazy thing is that the feeling now comes in familiar places—places I love to visit, places in which I live—which makes this emotion most perplexing, because home was always the solution to my homesickness. At these dark moments there truly seems to be no cure. That is when despair settles in for the night.
The saying goes, "Home is where the heart is." So what does that say about where my heart is? My heart is gone and I cannot get it back. Everything in my life seems odd and strange. I’m sure I face this feeling of homesickness because my heart is wounded and disoriented. It doesn’t know where true north is. It doesn’t know where home is.
Loneliness is a form of dying. We’re dying to old comforts, and even familiar places are strange without the one our hearts loved and learned to depend on. My homesickness is for a person who made my heart at ease regardless of where we were. Now, no matter where I am, that ease is missing.
I think this isn’t a sign of sickness but rather of health. It’s painful but it’s also reality, and facing reality is healthy. Loneliness is one form of dying that we all must face at some point in our lives. I’m trying hard to face my loneliness in a way that honors God and makes the most of my condition. I want badly to bemoan my condition, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference or glorify God. I can at least rejoice that God isn’t wasting my homesickness but is using it to fertilize the garden of my life. It’s in this painful emotional state that God's Spirit works for my good and His glory to mix all things together for good. This I trust.
In God's economy the seed dies and starts a new beginning of life, growth and hope. Whether it’s the making of a flower or the human soul, God does not and will not waste our sorrow, grief and loneliness. Our losses are God's way of accomplishing the gains. I’m still homesick, but not without hope. My heart has to learn to find its rest in the Lord alone, and in Him I find my hope, my peace. I wish for someone I could know in the most intimate way, but even if that never happens again, He is enough. Jesus is enough.

Ed Litton

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Yoke

The only time Jesus ever describes himself is in Matthew 11:29-30: “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When you are grieving, you expect to be given a stretcher. I mean, you’re hurting like someone who needs intensive care. But a yoke is what the Lord gave me. I thought it was very strange gift indeed. I mean, a yoke is an instrument of labor. Hard labor. Tiresome, hot and miserable labor under the sun. It is also a symbol of obligation and subjection. My grief is like that—a great burden.
Bearing that burden, I must go on with work, cooking, cleaning, lessons, appointments and calendars. Some dwarves whistle while they work; I grieve. That is not to suggest that every moment is painful, not at all. Being busy does beat antidepressants, and it can be a helpful way of working out your grief. I also get to work with some of the most wonderful, balanced and happy Christians in the world.
Let me tell you about this yoke though. It’s not at all what I expected. It lightens my burdens because Jesus bears the hardest parts. He allows just enough pressure to make me stronger but never lets me be crushed. The yoke he gives fits. It appears to be designed for me. Amazingly, it has no splinters or rough spots. It is easy. The Greek word for "easy" means to make useful or comfortable.
I admit I’m having a hard time loving the yoke. At times I resent it. Then again, it's not the yoke I’m supposed to love. I love Jesus. The yoke draws me to Him. When I’m in his yoke I can almost feel His heart beating. Let me tell you, his heart is greater than I ever imagined or preached. His heart is awesome! His love is overwhelming to me. From this unique "up close" vantage point, I notice something else. His scars. These were also custom made for me.
I’m amazed that I live most days utterly distant and ignorant of Him. This yoke takes me places I would not choose to visit, much less live. This yoke is His yoke. Anyone who takes it up finds that it makes him or her more like Jesus—gentle and humble of heart.

Ed Litton

Friday, April 04, 2008

God is Our Salvation

There are things that grieving people experience that others can never imagine. Secondary losses, for example, remind you of the primary loss every day. I have asthma. It's not much of a problem until allergy season comes around. I have episodes where I wake up from a deep sleep, standing beside my bed, unable to breath. Breathing has become a major addiction in my life, so you can imagine the panic I feel when I can't. Over the years I’ve learned to regulate the allergies so they don’t lead to an attack, but at times they get out of control. For a few brief moments I’m terrified. After one of those episodes going back to sleep can be even more foreboding.

During our twenty five years of marriage, Tammy had learned to calm me and lovingly coach me to my inhaler. But the night she died, as the kids and I were getting ready for bed, a terrible thought made me afraid to go to sleep. What if I had an asthma attack? Tammy wouldn’t be there to help, and the kids might be worried. So I coached them in what to do. Thankfully, for the last eight months I haven’t had a single event.

Sunday night, after an exhausting day, I went to bed. Sleep came fast, even though it’s the season when everything blooms in Mobile. At one thirty in the morning I had an attack. I turned on the bathroom light. I panicked, wheezing and gasping for breath. My sense of aloneness gripped me in a fear like I have never before experienced. I was searching for my medicine when I felt a gentle hand on my back, rubbing in the calmest and most comforting way. My twenty-one-year-old son Joshua was standing there. "Dad, it’s going to be OK" He kept repeating those comforting words.

When my pulse settled down and my breathing smoothed out, I sat on my bed and began to weep. He held me. I was overwhelmed with a darkness that I cannot describe. Then I realized that God sent Joshua to my aid. He normally sleeps upstairs, but tonight he was on call for work and came home just in time to hear me fumbling around. I am grateful once again for God's provision for my every fear. Last Sunday night reminds me that God is sovereign and nothing can separate me from His love and provision.

I am also very proud of a brave and tenderhearted son named Joshua. His name even comforted me that night. Joshua in Hebrew means “God is our salvation.” Jesus’ name derives from it. Jesus truly is my salvation.

Ed Litton

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Rolling Pin is Mightier than the Sword

Before Jesus came to the Litton house—we learned to speak of those days as B.C. (Before Christ)—my father was a hard fighting, hard drinking sailor. One day Dad came home under the influence of strong spirits and found my mother rolling out biscuit dough for supper. Dad yanked open the door of our short refrigerator and reached over it to grab yet another longneck beer. He popped the top off and took a deep swallow. My mother, frustrated by his drinking, suggested he go light on the booze. In a rare and very stupid moment, my father backhanded my mom. He then staggered into the bedroom and fell into their bed. Within moments she could hear him snoring. The sting of this slap could not compare to the devastation her woman's heart felt. I mean, she was cooking the sorry cuss's biscuits and he hit her.

My mother is not only a fantastic cook, she is an amazing seamstress. She quickly pulled the sheet tight around my dad and stitched it into a human cocoon. He looked like Lazarus lying in his tomb. Then she went into the kitchen and found her rolling pin. I don't remember the exact words she used, but they were something poetic, along the lines of, "You sorry S.O.B., you may have just gotten a sandwich out of me but I am about to get a meal out of you!" Then the beating began. Shouting, cussing and pleading, he was helpless to defend himself, bound up in that sewn sheet. Dad passed out only to come to from time to time with a terrible headache. He later said that when he woke up he wasn’t sure if he’d died and gone to hell.

The next day my father reported back to his ship and promptly checked himself into sickbay. Upon seeing this bruised and battered chief boatswains mate, the doctor said, "Litton, what in the world happened to you?"

"Oh, doc, I got in a fight last night with a bunch of Marines."

Diagnosed with a very bad hangover, and a well deserved domestic butt kicking, my dad learned a lesson. Southern women may be sweet and they may be great cooks, but they are resourceful when it comes to abuse. A stitch in time and a rolling pin can do more damage than the United States Marines.

In the remaining years my father gained a new respect for my mom and never mistreated her again. After Jesus came into the Litton house, He routed the demons and healed a host of painful memories. Today my mother still cooks for my dad, and we still laugh when we tell that story. I was a little boy that hot summer night in a Navy housing project, but I’m glad Jesus came and never left the Litton house.

Ed Litton
(My parents 50th Wedding Anniversary. A living miracle!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Welcome to Bountiful

A few years ago Tammy and I were spending a couple of days in New York City. We loved to walk in Manhattan. We spent the better part of the day walking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on our way back to our hotel we went past the Trump Tower. We went inside and approached the uniformed doorman. In typical Southern style I asked, "Sir, where is your restroom?" His answer was sharp and snappy. "My restroom is in Queens but you'll need to get a cab to get there." I said, "I bet that wasn't the first time you've been asked that question, was it?"

What was I thinking? I should have expected that kind of response in New York. There would be something wrong if a doorman in New York upon hearing a dumb question in a Southern drawl didn’t answer in this manner. But it made me think about the uniqueness of the environs I inhabit. It made me wonder what my neighborhood is like to strangers and visitors and walkers who need a restroom. Well, that led to another thought.

Do you remember the Walgreens ad campaign of a couple of years ago? The one that shows an idealized community where everything goes right and nothing ever goes wrong. The place is called "Perfect." A voice then reminds you that real life is not perfect, and that is why you need a Walgreens nearby. I don't know that I would want to live in a place called "Perfect." Beyond the reality that hits when I move in and "Perfect" ceases to be just that, there is no place this side of the New Jerusalem that is or can be perfect. Most people accept this truism, but we still long for a place that is near perfect.

This side of heaven, I think I would prefer a place called "Bountiful." Bountiful is a place God desires us to live our lives. Bountiful is a place where God's grace matches and exceeds life's dilemmas. The Apostle Paul talks of it in Second Corinthians. "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." Bountiful is God's answer to a sinful fallen existence where pain, heartache, suffering and hard things abound. For all too many people, "Bountiful" is as far-fetched as Walgreens’ "Perfect." In fact it is very close to a corner near you.

In Bountiful, God's grace meets you where you are and lifts you to where you need to be. Grace abounds for the failures of life. Grace rules relationships and grace supplies our needs. God provides for those who trust in him with all of their heart. Lest you begin to see the place Bountiful as some resort, let me remind you that it is a place of the harshest reality. Grace comes bountifully to those whose diagnosis is bad, whose child has Downs Syndrome, whose love of a life just walked out, and those touched by death's icy fingers. Bountiful is not what you would expect; it has a high crime rate, bad traffic, lousy attitudes and very poor service.

So why should I want to be there? It is God's way. He planted you in a less than perfect world to be the object of His grace and love. In order to do what He desires most, communicate his love to hurting humanity. Bountiful is not for the faint of heart. It is for the brokenhearted. You see God has planned a place called Perfect, but it is still under construction, nearing completion but undone at this hour. Bountiful is God's answer for an otherwise bare existence. The New York doorman was not a guy with a bad attitude; he was a reminder to me that God's grace is bountiful, and a good laugh at your own expense is worth the price of admission.

Come see me sometime, down the street, past the signpost that reads, "Welcome to Bountiful!"

Ed Litton

Monday, March 10, 2008

WHEN STARS ARE IN THE QUIET SKIES

When stars are in the quiet skies,
Then most I pine for thee;
Bend on me then thy tender eyes,
As stars look on the sea.
For thoughts, like waves that glide by night,
Are stillest when they shine;
Mine earthly love lies hush'd in light
Beneath the heaven of thine.

There is an hour when angels keep
Familiar watch o'er men,
When coarser souls are wrapt in sleep -
Sweet spirit, meet me then!
There is an hour when holy dreams
Through slumber fairest glide;
And in the mystic hour it seems
Thou shouldest be by my side.

My thoughts of thee too sacred are
For daylight's common beam;
I can but know thee as my star,
My angel and my dream;
When stars are in the quiet skies,
Then most I pine for thee;
Bend on me then thy tender eyes,
As stars look on the sea.

Edward Bulwer Lytton
1803-1873

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Millstone Incident

My Dad grew up in the Great Depression. I grew up reliving the Great Depression through my father's amazing storytelling ability. His vivid descriptions filled my hungry mind with color and depth and just enough facts to make me feel as if I was actually there.

My father was one of ten children, each struggling and starving in their own way. As one of the youngest and shortest of ten children my father grew up street wise, scrappy and hungry. Adventure was always the quickest way to distract him from his busy mind and hungry stomach.

One spring day my father, affectionately known as "Shorty," was traipsing through a wooded hillside that overlooked the rusting coal mining town of Coburn, Virginia. You don't get the nickname "Shorty" for being the biggest kid in the pack, so you have to be quick to action in order to keep from being lost and left behind. With his older brother PeeWee and his buddy Don Evans in tow, their adventure took them to the top of the hill so they could overlook the town. Almost to the crest of the hill, they saw it. They must have been up this hill a thousand times, but for some reason they’d never seen it—an enormous millstone, standing upright and just waiting for them to find it.

The three boys saw opportunity. A few ideas bounced among them as they surveyed the two tons of rock shaped for milling grain into flour. The grist mill that had once surrounded the grinding stone was long gone, leaving the stone standing silent and alone. Not being versed in weights and measurements, it never dawned on the three boys that this thing was heavy. Really heavy. So they took a rope from my grandmother's clothesline and secured the millstone. The plan was to knock away the stump that held the stone and let the mighty rock gently roll down the hill so they could salvage it and make a killing off its sale.

PeeWee took an ax in hand and barked out the question, “Ready?” Shorty and Don held the rope tightly, bracing for the slow descent down the hill. PeeWee sliced the dead stump with a whack, and the millstone moved for the first time in decades. It moved slowly at first, then when the rope snapped, it freely rolled down the hill. With the boys in chase, the millstone began chewing up trees and spitting them out both sides. Nothing could stop it. It smashed a fence as the boys ran helplessly along dodging limbs and falling trees. It kept rolling downhill, picking up speed and moving right toward a house.

At the foot of the great hill was a shack owned by a strange woman named Jane Hicks. The boys watched in disbelief as the stone rolled straight toward her house. Living next door to Jane was the Adkins family. Baldy Adkins was another friend of my father. When I asked my dad why anyone would name a kid "Baldy," he assured me that he was not prematurely bald and this was his nickname, he said the Adkins family was so poor they shaved their kids’ heads to keep from having to pay for haircuts—and that it also helped keep the lice population down. Baldy's mom was hanging clothes in the backyard when she heard the commotion coming down the hill. Jane was in her kitchen when Mrs. Adkins yelled, "Jane, get out of that house, all hell is breaking loose!" Jane dove from the porch seconds before the millstone slammed into the house and split it in two.

No one saw the Litton brothers or Don Evans for over a week. They just melted into the mountains until the heat was off. Upon their arrival back in civilization, they were just in time to watch a man with a team of horses pulling the millstone down the street to salvage. It would be years before the statute of limitations expired on the fear of these three young men. Thankfully for them, everyone found a huge distraction when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Within a few short years the three boys would be off at war and the world would never be the same.

The best part of this story is the part I did not tell you. You see, Jane Hicks made moonshine in that little shack at the bottom of the hill. My dad said that on Saturday night after she had finished brewing and taste testing her product, Jane was riding high. Alcohol can do strange things to people. Jane would climb the hill behind her house above the town and scream like a panther. Funny thing, after the Millstone Incident, no one ever recalled hearing the panther again. What the Federal Revenuers could not do, three hapless and hungry boys with wide eyes and big dreams did. I don't know if Jane was saved that spring day, but I know that whatever happened to her, the panther never screamed again and no one ever purchased old Jane Hicks’s brew. The Lord sure does move in mysterious ways.