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