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