I am sure that I will be posting more in the coming days as the reality of all that is happening becomes more and more "real." Nothing that I will post today or at any time in the future should communicate to you that this does not hurt. It does. But, it is as Paul told the Corinthians--"sorrowful, but always rejoicing."
I find myself, only by God's grace to me in Jesus Christ, living the truth of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." That verse was one of the first passages of Scripture that God impressed in my newly made heart. I have had to live that verse out in different difficult "circumstances"--both in health and in the many "afflictions" that can come with being a pastor.
But, I have never had to live that verse through the circumctance of death--until now. God, in his grace, has seen fit to guard me from experiencing the death of a close loved one for the first 32 years of my life. That grace is not lost on me and as I begin to hurt over my granddaddy's impending physical death, that grace becomes more and more precious.
What do I have to be thankful for in the face of my granddaddy's death? Time would not allow me to list all of the occasions of gratitude, but I want to mention just a few. I am thankful God has given me a loving wife to walk through this with me. I am thankful that God has given me a mom that even through her pain in all of this--which I am sure is much greater than mine--still is being my mom and concerned about my hurt and my pain. I am thankful for a loving church family who I know will carry me and my family to the throne room of God and that God will answer their prayers for us. I am so thankful to the Lord that He saved my Granddaddy and me and so when I spoke to him on Saturday night, for what will probably be the last time, we could have this exchange--Granddaddy: "I love you with all my heart. I will see you in heaven." Me: "Yes, you will. I love you too."
Finally, I am thankful to God that I never have had to experience, nor will I ever have to experience death without looking at it through the lens of the Gospel. I will never experience death without the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to carry me through it. I will never experience death without knowing the words of my Lord, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you...My grace is sufficient for you...All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose." I never will have to walk through death without the hope of the Gospel. I never had to experience this curse of sin--death--with the heart or through the lens of an unbeliever.
That is a grace from God that I am so thankful for and that I know that I do not deserve. However, on the cross Jesus Christ not only forgave my sin and gave me a new heart, satisfying God's wrath against my sin and giving to me His righteousness, but there on that cross He purchased for me and all who believe every good gift and every bad thing that God turns for our good and His glory.
But it's never too late to praise the Lord for a great Sunday of worship last week. I believe that was about as packed as I've ever seen the sanctuary. Everyone did a wonderful job in serving/worshipping that day to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection.
It would be great if every Sunday were that packed, but I imagine we will not have the same crowd this Sunday. That will be so not because the resurrection isn't worth celebrating to that degree each week nor because Christ isn't worth treasuring. We should celebrate the resurrection like we do on Easter every week and every day for that matter. Jesus Christ is the greatest treasure above all and is worthy of to be praised and satisfied with above all.
The stark reality is the reason this Sunday will not be as packed as last Sunday is that most of the people who show up on Easter do not do so to celebrate the resurrection or to treasure Jesus Christ. They do so because it's tradition. It's what you are supposed to do on that Sunday each year in the Spring. They do so out of guilt from their parents or spouse.
I thought earlier this week about how exciting it was to see all those people there on Sunday, but I wished God would let me see something else. I wish I could have seen what God was doing through His gospel in the hearts of people there on Sunday. I wish for a second God would let me see the dual work of the Gospel on the hearts of people. Someone once said that the Gospel's affect on hearts is like the sun's affects on clay. The same sun that softens some clay hardens others. The same Gospel that softens some hearts hardens others. Yes, it would have been discouraging and heartbreaking to see the hardening of some peoples hearts as the Gospel was preached, but oh how marvelous it would be to see the beginning of the Gospel's work on a heart to soften it in the process of being completely changed by Christ!
Let this Sunday's decrease in attendance be discouraging. It should be and it is. But I pray that God would use the decrease in attendance to slap us in the face with the reality of how few people were here of those who usually are not here who were actually here to celebrate the resurrection and treasure the Christ who rose from the dead. But more than that I pray God would use the reality of the decrease in attendance this week to break our hearts and stir within us afresh the urgent need for us as the church to be sharing the Gospel with those lost people as we are going each day so that, if the Lord's coming tarries, we might see in the future a Sunday after Easter where the attendance was just the same as Easter Sunday!
Pray with me that God would make it so!
So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see and believe."
Only by Jesus staying on the cross and bearing the wrath of God in the place of sinners like the chief priests and scribes could they and us ever believe. If Jesus came down from the cross there would be no hope for us to believe in Him because apart from being made alive together with Christ we are dead in our sins and trespasses and unable to see and believe in Him as our Savior and Treasure.
And so by God's grace, Jesus Christ stayed on the cross and there purchased the New Covenant in His blood which purchased for believers the grace of repentance and faith of seeing and believing. (Jeremiah 31:3; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 13:20-21)
Oh how grateful we should be that Jesus did not come down from the cross, but stayed there for all who the Father had given him, all who will believe in Him.
Dennis Rainey gives this as a possible explanation in Moments With You:
"It's not interesting to the secular community. While the entire culture is focused on gift-giving and food-filled festivities at Christmas, Easter doesn't fit as well into our society's love affair with materialism."
I am afraid even we as believers may be leaning more towards celebrating Christmas for those reasons as well. May it be that the reason we get so excited about Christmas is not so much because of our excitement and treasuring of Christ as it is the gifts, the family, and the food? Therefore the reason Easter is so scaled down in our celebration is because all of those peripheral things are not connected with it: food, family, and most especially gifts.
I pray that is not the case, but I fear it may be and if so I pray that our hearts will put what is central back at the center of both Christmas and Easter--Christ. I pray that our celebration of both would be such that both equally proclaim the Gospel and our treasuring of Christ to our community. What a witness it would be to the community around us to see a church that makes just as big a deal of Easter as Christmas, if not bigger?
Holly and I love SCC. I told Holly before that he "gets it." There are some artists that don't get it, but he does without a doubt. He understands that life is not really life unless it is lived for the glory of God through treasuring Christ above and in all things and sharing that treasure with others.
The concert was wonderful and we had a great time. He began the concert fairly tamed by going back over some of his older material. It was a great and needed reminder. You see, God saved me in 1997. That year was the year that SCC released his "Greatest Hits" CD. And so this CD was one of the first forms of Christian music I listened to as a new believer. These songs have deep meaning to me. As I sat there listening to these songs, I could not help but feel somewhat overwhelmed at the grace of God that He has lavished on me in Jesus Christ. As I listened to these songs, it was if God, through His Spirit spoke to me and said, "Philip, do you remember? Do you remember when you first heard these songs? Philip, this was when I saved you. This was when I took your heart of stone out and replaced it with a heart of flesh that loves me and treasures me above all things!" I needed that reminder and will always remember it. I hope that you can think back to a point in your life and remember the same thing: "This is when God saved me!"
A few days later now and I listen to those same songs that brought back such wonderful memories and I think about how God has made those songs so real to me in my walk with him. When I first sung them, I had so much to learn of this new life with Christ. But now looking back over how He has shaped me and formed me these 11 years, I have learned the truth of those songs so much clearer and am still learning.
- "Not Home Yet"--No matter the highs or the lows in our walk with Christ we must always remember that this world is not our home. We must remember that our citizenship is in heaven.
- "The Great Adventure"--I will never hear this song and not have the mental image of Jeff and Tricia walking down the aisle to this song after just committing their lives together in marriage. But now, after 11 years of walking with Christ--it is The Great Adventure
- "For the Sake of the Call"--We must truly abandon all things to follow Christ and to make Him known throughout the world.
- "I Will Be Here"--I never knew that when I first sung those words that one day I would hear them as I stood in front of my Bride, Holly, committing our lives together to Christ. To be completely honest though, the whole time the song was playing we were both trying to get the wedding ring on my finger which was near to impossible since my hands were so swollen. It is such a grace from God to know the committment we have to each other that no matter what, we will always be here for one another, till death parts us. I love you Holly, and I will always be here for you.
- "No Better Place"--There truly is no better life to live then the road that leads to heaven.
- "Hiding Place" and "His Strength Is Perfect"--You only learn the truth of these songs and the Scriptures that gave birth to them by living through the hard times--the times of suffering through things like Crohns and your first baby being taken by God after only being aware of his/her existence for one week or your second baby girl having surgery to remove part of her lung at three months of age and wondering if your third baby girl will have Down Syndrome or watching your mom suffer through so much or your Grandfather's ministry coming to an end or wondering how can you keep being faithful in the face of ridicule and "persecution" for standing on the Word of God.
- "The Walk"--Bottom line is: Are you walking and living like Jesus has commanded. By their fruits, you shall know them.
I have learned so much since 1997 and have so much to learn and because of God's grace in saving me I will spend eternity plumbing the depths of God's riches in Christ as he unfolds and reveals more of his glory to me and every believer forever and ever.
Several weeks ago, terrorists sank to new depths of evil and depravity in their strategies to kill innocent lives. They strapped bombs to two unsuspecting women with Down Syndrome and had them walk into crowded market places. The terrorists then detonated the bombs strapped to these women by way of remote control and killing over 70 people. According to officials the women were unaware as to what they were doing.
According to one California study the abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome is 59%. In an English study, the rate was found to be 92%.
In a Baptist Press article on March 4th of this year, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback made the following comment:
"The effect of our abortion policy at this moment is that we are in the midst of a genocide of children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other in utero genetic conditions that medical analysis can detect," Brownback said in a commentary published in The Wichita Eagle in July, when he introduced the bill. "If we think there's a chance the child may have a disability, too often he or she is killed in the womb, and the system seems to push it."
A senate committee recently passed legislation that hopefully would help reduce the abortion rates of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome. If the bill is passed it would require that parents whose children were diagnosed with Down Syndrome and other genetic conditions be given the latest information on such conditions and of the support services available. It would also provide a registry of families willing to adopt children with special needs.
When Holly and I found out she was expecting Annika, we were first made aware of this suspect way that doctors attempt to get you to think twice about going through with a pregnancy when the baby might possibly have Down Syndrome. We refused the testing with Annika because the only logic we saw behind the testing was to encourage abortion.
I forget how, but somehow with Alexa, the testing was done and it came back that there was the likelihood that Alexa may have Down Syndrome. It was devastating. But not because of the inconvenience it would cause us, which is the reason why most pregnancies with such diagnoses are terminated. It was devastating because of what it potentially meant for Alexa--the suffering she would endure during her life. Even with a positive test, the thought never entered our minds to end the pregnancy. Why? Not because we are such good moral people, but because Christ, through his death and resurrection, has purchased for us new hearts that obey His Word and love what He loves and one of those things is the preciousness of life--all life because we are all made in the image of God--even if we are made with Down Syndrome.
Thankfully, the tests were incorrect and Alexa was born healthy. But even if she was unhealthy with Down Syndrome, she still had the right to be born and live. Sometimes you hear couples who are expecting say, "All we care about is that she/he is born healthy." I think we may have said that as well and the intention and motivation behind it is understandable. But what if they are not born healthy? They are not less of a person, but life that has been made in the image of God and deserves to be loved and cared for, not terminated because of the inconvenience it would be to mom and dad to care for him or her.
I close with this quote from John Piper on this issue:
"The disgust one feels for the kind of heart that does this [using Down Syndrome women as weapons] could reveal to England and America how we should feel when we screen for Down Syndrome babies and then kill them."
Jill Stanek chronicles Sen. Obama's voting history in regards to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act here.
Jeremy Pierce gives wise comment and critique of Sen. Obama's arguments for voting against such act and supporting abortion here.
Sen. Rick Santorum gives an op/ed piece in regards to Sen. Obama's position on abortion here.
Sherif Girgis, a Rhodes scholar, writes a great open letter to Sen. Obama here.
Here is a powerful excerpt from that letter:
Can we provide every member of the human family equal protection under the law? Your record as a legislator gives a resounding answer: No, we can’t. That is the answer the Confederacy gave the Union, the answer segregationists gave young children, the answer a complacent bus driver once gave a defiant Rosa Parks. But a different answer brought your father from Kenya so many years ago; a different answer brought my family from Egypt some years later. Now is your chance, Senator Obama, to make good on the spontaneous slogan of our campaign, to adopt the more American and more humane answer to the question of whether we can secure liberty and justice for all: Yes, we can.
With "hope" like this, who needs "despair?"
But Lloyd-Jones's writing isn't cutesy. She has a grasp of the profound. How does one explain to a child the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, and his prayer of surrender to his Father? Lloyd-Jones does it as well as any biblical commentator:
"Papa! Father!" Jesus cried. And he fell to the ground. "Is there any other way to get your children back? To heal their hearts? To get rid of the poison?" … . Violent sobs shook Jesus' whole body. Then Jesus was quiet.Like a lamb. "I trust you, Papa," he said. "Whatever you say, I will do."
The title and subtitle are even better than the book's delightful illustrations and narrative — because they provide, in one deft stroke, the interpretive key that unlocks the meaning of the whole Bible.
The Jesus Storybook Bible says it all: The Scriptures are not merely a collection of stories designed to teach moral lessons. As Jesus explained to the men walking the road to Emmaus on Resurrection Sunday, the whole Bible is about Jesus. In the words of the subtitle, every story whispers his name.