Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Childless, Desperate and Grieving

People grieve over many things. Loss is loss and it leaves us in a fog of grief and often despair. When one thinks of a childless grieving one thinks of a barren woman, maybe her husband. Seldom do we think of a barren single man. Yet the book of Acts tells us of a man who was barren and grieving the fact that he would never leave a heritage of children, a legacy of his mortal existence.

In Acts 8:26-40 is a compelling story of a man from Ethiopia. We are told in short form that he is a government official, and a eunuch. We know that in most ancient kingdoms, any male who works close to the royal family was often made into a eunuch. Dude, why would you sign up for that job? Well, in that time, the line of the family was critical to ownership rights, power and the enduring kingdom. Your name would not linger or long be remembered if you allowed your family line to be polluted. Even among not so royal people the ownership of land, heritage and community depended upon your offspring and your name. The Ethiopian was Rendered incapable of fathering children. He then would not be remembered. His life would be lived in anonymity and service to someone else's dream and vision.

The narrative tells us that he was a seeking man. We do not know all the details but he had a strong compulsion which drove him to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship. His seeking would have left him wanting in the city of God because scripture tells us that no man made a eunuch would have been allowed in the Temple to worship. His longing and seeking would have turned away disappointed. Yet he was able to find a copy of the scroll of Isaiah which no doubt cost him handsomely. We find our eunuch friend on a desert road, heading back toward home, reading, searching, longing for understanding. We know this was the condition of his heart because God interrupted one of His choice servants named Philip and send him to meet the eunuch.

The encounter Philip had with this Official of the Queen of Ethiopia is an amazing example of the work of the Holy Spirit to bring a soul to Christ. Don't skip over the passage the eunuch was reading too quickly.

Acts 8:32-33 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

We know very well this side of the cross that the prophet is talking about Jesus. I believe however that these where not the only words that captured this eunuch's heart and mind. "In his humiliation he was deprived of justice." I think the eunuch could identify with the injustice and humiliation of being deprived of a future for the sake of others. He could also identify with the next statement. "Who can speak of his descendants?" Imagine being a eunuch and discovering that the Messiah who was slaughtered like a lamb for your sins was also a man who would have no biological descendants. I cannot help but see this Ethiopian eyes fixed on the words of the text and those same eyes brimming over with overwhelming tears.

Philip knew the joy of taking a person at the point of ultimate discovery of the truth of who this person is, it is Jesus. Later Isaiah would write these words:

Is. 54:1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.

Who in their right mind calls a barren woman or man to sing for joy? Only someone who knows that the ultimate joy is yet to be had. There is joy in children, joy in life, joy in legacy but God has created more to this life for us. We where made for ultimate joy in the Lord himself. So rejoice in your grief, rejoice in your barrenness, rejoice in the God of your salvation.

Is. 54:4-5“Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

Today in your daily movement you will encounter people for whom you have no possible way of knowing the private longings or suffering of their heart. Yet, you can trust that there is some kind of barrenness in their lives. An empty longing that only Jesus can fill. Be ready to start from where they are and tell them the "good news" the gospel of Jesus. It is the only cure for the barren heart.

I am amazed that a man who knew he would never be remembered is still spoken of two thousand years later. Why? Because our God sent His son to bear the barrenness of our lives so that we could be His offspring forever.

What An Amazing Gospel!

Ed Litton

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

This phrase is a part of our common vernacular. It is used to describe something that is obvious by its size but we do not choose to talk about it. We ignore "It." Maybe "It" is too obvious. Maybe the subject is too painful. Whatever the reason, we need to acknowledge the big bad boy and talk about it if we ever hope to deal with it.

I will be launching a sermon series soon with this title. I hope to address from God's Word some "Elephants in the Room" of our local church. The unique thing about this series is that it will move in and out of my preaching schedule as randomly as a big fat elephant would do. Look for one of those Elephants in the Room Sermons in July 2011.

This blog is one of those Elephant in the Room issues. I have not written in it since April of 2010. I miss it. I am amazed people still read it. I want to continue writing of my journey in the hope that God will use it to encourage, strengthen and help others on their journey. Alright, I have at the least addressed the Big Fat Elephant in the Room.

If you want to hear a message that addresses the Elephant in the Room of Sorrow, Suffering and what to do with it, then listen to this message from June 26, 2010 at northmobile.org

Monday, April 26, 2010

Doing This Life with Grief

Doing life with grief isn’t as easy or as simple as you might think. When someone you care about goes through a loss, it’s natural to hope they’ll reach a place where it no longer dominates their lives. But in a sense, there is no such place. Grief is here to stay. It may not be as intense as it once was, but you never escape its reality. Don’t misunderstand me: in Christ there is always grace to accompany the grief. You may be curious as to what that looks like. Let me share my journey two and a half years from the beginning point.

I’ve been in a protracted struggle with my grief over losing Tammy. My life is different than I ever imagined. I’m now remarried to Kathy Ferguson, a wonderful caring and understanding woman, yet there are times Tammy's memory overwhelms me. Tears still rise at surprising moments.

Recently, as I traveled with Kayla to California to visit my son Tyler, I was swamped with memories of times Tammy and I traveled these same roads and visited the same places. Harsh pain mixed with the joy of sweet memories. This time, however, I was tempted to escape my grief. I wanted to go back and not forward. I wanted to remain awash in my sorrow. This is not good.

God doesn’t intend for us to grieve in a way that dwells only on the past. The reality of the embrace of God’s grace helps us both endure and move forward. We hurt still, and we certainly weep—but not as those who have no hope. We’re profoundly changed by grief—but for the better. I have grown. I’m more in tune and more sensitive, more aware and more dependent upon the Lord. I want to keep growing.

This morning in God's Word I was reading Luke 20, where Jesus does hand to hand combat with the religious elite of his day. The Pharisees and Sadducees were natural enemies because of deep theological divisions, yet Jesus unified them because he was a threat to both. In one famous debate the Sadducees asked Jesus about marriage following the resurrection, a concept they denied. Following some instruction about what life in heaven is really like, Jesus says:

"The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." (Luke 20:34-38)

Believe it or not, there’s more than great instruction in this passage. There is comfort. I can’t go back because my relationship with Tammy is eternally altered. We will never be husband and wife again. If you’ve suffered a bad marriage these words may be comforting. If you’ve had a delightful marriage they become more difficult to swallow. Yet there’s great comfort in being reminded of the last truth Jesus stresses. Look again at the words in v. 38: "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." Jesus is the God of a living Tammy. She is fully alive. She is joyfully alive. She’ll no longer struggle with the issues of this painful fallen world. She waits for reunion in a world where every day is a reunion.

I’m comforted by these truths. Praise the Lord that one I loved, one with whom I loved doing life together, is alive. More alive than ever. I mustn’t let my ongoing grief rob me of that joy. God's grace is enough, but grace and truth are inseparably linked. The truth in God's Word opens the eyes of my heart, and I see what I’ve never seen before.

I am truly blessed!
Ed Litton

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grief Feels Like Fear

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I will admit there are a lot of things no one tells you about grief. They don’t tell you because few really know these truths. Well, we know them but are fearful of embracing them. The human heart just won’t allow us to embrace this depth of pain, fear and even doubt. Grief has a powerful and strange resemblance to fear.

This morning I received news of yet another man who has lost his precious wife in an automobile accident. My heart goes out to this husband and father of four boys in his loss and the fear that accompanies living without her. In grief, the circumstances of our lives can be overwhelming.

Being touched by death transforms your lifestyle, sobers your mind and changes your life forever. I recall having brief flashes of what my life would be like if I ever lost Tammy. The last time this happened was just a week or so before she was killed. I remember that I couldn’t sit in the thought for long because of fear. So I swatted the thought away like a fly and went on my merry way.

Grief feels like fear because it leaves you staggering in uncertainty. If you think about it, though, most of the things that give us a sense of certainty are false. What do I do? Where do I turn next? How do I move forward? Do I even want to move at all? The only lasting source of certainty is Jesus Christ.

Grief feels like fear because fear, in a sense, becomes reality. You’re in it and don't quite know what to do with it. It’s your worst nightmare come true. At that moment, you cling to God's Truth, and you by faith accept that the Lord is near. Psalm 34:18 says, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." He comforts those who walk through this valley with the comfort of His nearness. We give Him our fear, trusting that He is good.

Grief feels so much like homesickness, deep pain, longing that will never be satisfied…and yes, it feels like fear. Psalm 23:4 promises “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Throughout Scripture God's answer for our grief and fear is nearness. He comes to us in our hour of sorrow. The invisible God draws near. His answer to our fear is to draw near.

Ed Litton

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death is a Process

Manley Beasley preached his last message to the Southern Baptist Convention in June of 1990 in New Orleans. In that powerful and prophetic message he made this statement: "Long before we have a funeral, death sets in. We seem to have the idea that death only occurs when we have a funeral." Manley was right; we miss the fact that death is a long-term process in the life of an individual, a church or a denomination.
How can we as Southern Baptists make needed corrections if we keep missing this point? Our denomination is in a state of death and decay. Must we, as some suggest, ignore the signs of dying in the Southern Baptist family? Must we wait until the funeral to admit we are in the throes of death? Please do not say that our problem need only be solved with money. Our deepest need cannot be fixed by money. Money is one of the leading symptoms of our dying. Other symptoms are disunity, character assassination of brothers who don't toe the line, control and cynicism, to name a few. Dying is our process but revival is the sovereign work of God. Who among us will believe God for revival?
Ed Litton

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Exceptional in the Most Ordinary Way

There is something deep within me that wants to do or be something exceptional. I often couch this thought in the phrase "for the Lord," but I have to wonder if it really is for the Lord or for me. This seems like a noble impulse, and it may be common to us all at some level, but it lacks some essential discernment. I can’t imagine a time when anything I could do in my strength would truly be exceptional for the Lord. How can you wow the one who with the flick of His wrist spun galaxies into order?

Still, it seems He longs for us to be exceptional in the mundane things—to be exceptional in the face of selfishness, rude clerks, ignorant words and other drivers. Maybe these are the things that best prepare us for the rare glimpses of His glory. When we learn to expect his presence in every area of daily living, then we’re not surprised when we see Him in a big way.

This kind of “exceptional” is God's way. We respond in exceptional ways when we do so with grace. We make exceptional choices when we trust Him. We act exceptionally when we draw on His grace and not our own power to live this life. I don’t deny that there are brief glimpses of glorious exception that seem to wrap life in gold and seal it with amazement. But such moments are rare indeed. What God has given us all in abundance are mundane routines that we trudge through daily, and He certainly means for us to be exceptional in these. It’s here that we see His glory—when our eyes are open and trained to spot Him moving in them.

This is where Jesus lived each day. This is why in the crowd He could spot one hurting woman who needed His touch. This is why He refused to shoo adoring and inquisitive children away. This is why He wouldn’t pass people by or treat them as blurry memories as he laid his head down to rest at night. Jesus showed us it is God's will to be exceptional in the uninspired moments and see the glory of God revealed. Living this way packed a lot of living into thirty three exceptional years.

Lord, help me bring glory to your name in the mundane moments of my life today. Help me be exceptional in the most ordinary way.

Ed Litton

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Bride

As a pastor, I have been a joyful witness to hundreds of ceremonies that have as their centerpiece the presentation of a bride. In the moments prior to the wedding march, I always stand at the altar with an eager groom and congregation, recalling a significant moment in Scripture. There will be a revelation of the Bride of Christ one day, and it will be glorious. Revelation 19:7 records it this way: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”

When the doors fly open and the bride is revealed, my heart lifts with joy. I can’t help thinking of the day when the church will be revealed to all the world as the glorious bride of Christ. Revelation 21:2 describes the scene: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” She begins her march down the aisle as cameras flash, women wipe tears from their eyes, and paying fathers calculate what all this cost (often with tears of their own). With a smile on my face, I wonder if anyone else in the crowd recognizes the spiritual significance of this moment.

I’ve repeated this little mental exercise in personal worship for years—until last week, when I once again found myself standing at a marriage altar. But this time I wasn’t the officiating pastor. I was the groom. When the doors opened, I saw a vision of glory. Yes, the same spiritual significance I’ve rehearsed over the years crossed my mind, but it was drowned out by a louder thought.

This was my bride—radiant, glorious, and beyond description in her beauty. Her dress sang like a thousand voice choir. Her dignity transformed the aisle into a promenade. Her smile enraptured me.

I then had another insight. In that brief and powerful moment, I knew what my Lord Jesus Christ will know. The joy of seeing His bride prepared and ready, eager to be with Him. In that moment a world of sorrows will fall silent. In that moment the grave ceases to claim another prize. In that moment it will be worth it all when the groom sees the bride.

It must have been for this joy set before Him that He endured the passion. The cost was beyond calculation, but this moment proves that it is worth it all. His patient love and enduring grace crowns that moment with unspeakable delight.

And I know in a moment what He will enjoy for all eternity. You cannot forget a moment like that.

Ed Litton